Bycatch training further strengthens Fiji’s commitment to sustainable fishing
However, when fishing takes place within a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone or in International waters, other marine species get caught as well. They are either sold or discarded. These are called ‘bycatch’.
With World Wildlife Day celebrated today, according to WWF-Pacific’s Sustainable Fisheries and Seafood Programme, Policy Officer, Vilisoni Tarabe, bycatch is the catch of non-target species by offshore fishing vessels.
“This includes the incidental or unintentional catch of ‘species of special interest’ or endangered, threatened, and protected (ETP) species such as turtles, sharks and seabirds by the tuna longliners. Also, non- tuna species that are caught but are of commercial value are also labelled as bycatch. These are swordfish, marlins, barracudas, wahoo, and mahimahi to name a few,” highlighted Tarabe.
Issues of Bycatch
Bycatch issues in the offshore fishing industry revolve around the bycatch of sharks, turtles and seabirds.
The Western and Central Pacific Ocean fishing zone that Fiji is part of, is also not immune to such issues of bycatch.
For Fiji, the majority of ETP species of bycatch caught on longline fishing vessels are sharks.
Fiji’s Ministry of Fisheries 2017 Observers’ Report estimates that a total 6,355 shark species interactions were made within the Fiji longline fishery where 6,312 of shark species were discarded, 17 retained and 27 escaped.
For sea turtles, the 2017 Observers’ Report indicated that a total of 72 sea turtle cases of gear interactions were recorded and of the 72 sea turtles 25 were released alive with 47 were landed dead and then discarded. 2016 data recorded a total of 60 cases, with 37 turtles landed dead and discarded.
For sea bird interactions within the Fiji longline fisheries, there were seven seabird interactions observed or reported for 2017. Fiji’s location in the Western and Central and Pacific Ocean (WCPO) makes the issue of seabird bycatch relatively non-existent.
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC)
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) is the decision making body for the management of tuna fishing in the WCPO. Conservation and Management Measures (CMMs) agreed to by the Commission members are legally binding on them and apply to the Convention area. Fiji is a member of the WCPFC.
Bycatch Training Module – A first for Fiji and strengthens move towards sustainability in fisheries
Earlier this week, the Fiji Maritime Academy launched its “Protected Species Bycatch Mitigation for the Fiji Offshore Fisheries” training manual, which will strengthen theoretical knowledge of maritime seafarers in the Offshore Fishing sector on the issues of bycatch.
The bycatch training and manual was made possible through WWF Pacific’s ‘Developing Sustainable and Responsible Tuna Longline Fisheries in Fiji’ project that is funded by New Zealand Aid’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).
The bycatch module is a first for Fiji where a tertiary institution will introduce such training as previously; seafarers would undergo bycatch training whilst on board a fishing vessel.
In launching the bycatch training manual, Minister for Fisheries, Semi Koroilavesau highlighted the bycatch manual was a step in the right direction in addressing the issues of bycatch for Fiji and the region.
“For Fiji, the Offshore Fishing Sector has been a driver of Fiji’s fisheries economy with its longline fleet being worth around US $60 million annually. In this regard, the sustainable use of tuna resources has been at the forefront of Fiji’s national and regional quest. While recognising that Fiji is at the end trail of migrating tuna stocks, there is a growing international demand for responsibly harvested tuna,” said Koroilavesau.
Koroilavesau added that not only does the manual provide an accredited training platform for crew members; it also offers the perfect opportunity for fish handlers to contribute to a sustainable fishing environment.
“With the use of the manual, trainees should be able to identify the animals which are of “special interest” or protected species; explain the current requirements when interaction with protected species occur; explain why protected species get caught during fishing activities; describe what “best practice” in avoiding interaction; use safe handling and release practices; and be able to develop individual Vessel Management Plans,” said Koroilavesau.
WWF Pacific’s Representative, Kesaia Tabunakawai, highlighted that the bycatch training manual will help create awareness for future maritime officers on the importance of minimising to the furthest extent possible the impact fisheries operations may have on endangered and protected species while out at sea.
“Bycatch is an ongoing regional issue which poses a reputational risk to the Fiji offshore fisheries and it is our vision that through the provision of affordable and accessible training for fishing crews on bycatch it is our hope that capacity building and development of professional fisher folks will go a long way to reducing impacts associated with bycatch not only nationally but across the Western and Central Pacific tuna fishery,” said Tabunakawai.
The bycatch training manual will provide the fisheries bycatch component to FMA’s Deck Hand Fishing and Offshore Skipper Fishing Programmes being taught at the academy.
“Fiji’s Tuna fishery is an important contributor to our economy. In 2015, the value of catch was worth approximately US$73m. The sector is estimated to employ approximately 3,800 people. Also, our Tuna fishery has earned international recognition as being the first longline tuna fishery in the world to have been certified sustainable under the Marine Stewardship Council certification for sustainability in 2012 and again in 2018.”
“The MSC certification gives international consumers in markets like Japan, United States of America, New Zealand and Australia and the European Union confidence that the Tuna from Fiji they eat has been sourced from healthy well-managed tuna stocks. This bycatch training manual is a step in the right direction of not only strengthening Fiji but the Pacific region’s tuna fisheries,” Tabunakawai added.