Fiji offshore fisheries stakeholders launch first ever by-catch guidelines
This is a first for Fiji, where by-catch guidelines have been developed for both skippers and crew and vessel operators to further strengthen by-catch mitigation efforts within Fiji’s maritime offshore fisheries sector.
By-catch is the incidental catch of non-target species by offshore fishing vessels and includes the unintentional catch of ‘species of special interest’ or endangered and protected species such as sea turtles, sharks and seabirds by tuna longliners. For Fiji, the majority of the endangered, threatened, and protected species of by-catch caught on longline fishing vessels are sharks.
By-catch has been a concern in global offshore fisheries and this initiative aims to help enhance sustainable fishing practices in Fiji’s longline fleet.
It was estimated in 2019 that there were a total 4,311 interactions with different shark species within Fiji’s longline fisheries where 4,289 sharks were discarded, 10 retained and 12 escaped. For sea turtles, estimates indicated that a total of 83 sea turtle cases of gear interactions were recorded and of the 83 sea turtles that were interacted with, 44 sea turtles were released alive while 39 were released dead.
The ‘Bycatch Best Handling Practices: A Guideline for Skippers and Crew on Longline Fishing Vessels in Fiji’ guideline is targeted for skippers and crew on Fiji’s longline fishing vessels to help reduce the incidental bycatch of species like sea turtles, sharks and seabirds. The guideline also ensures the safety of crew by following safe handling practices.
The ‘Best Practice for Bycatch Mitigation in Fiji’s Tuna Longline Fishery: For Vessel Owners & Operators’ document will be a guiding document for FFIA members.
The development of the bycatch documents is made possible through the Developing Sustainable and Responsible Tuna Longline Fisheries in Fiji project that is funded by the New Zealand government and is a project partnership between FFIA, MoF, FMA and WWF.
In launching the by-catch documents, FFIA President, Radhika Kumar highlighted the documents will further strengthen Fiji’s efforts in addressing the issues of by-catch.
“It is indeed a great honour to be here this morning and to participate in this important ceremony of handing over the mitigation tool for best bycatch practice. It is very important to comply with the relevant measures in place for the protection of bycatch species that are associated a lot with longline fisheries.”
“Therefore, the materials and tool kits provided to the industry this morning will definitely assist us to comply the existing management measures on bycatch and this will also assist us in the accreditation under MSC which is important for our overseas market,” Kumar added.
According to WWF-Pacific’s project manager, Seremaia Tuqiri, while the development of such “best approaches” is a huge progress, the success of these by-catch documents will require continuous collaboration between all stakeholders including crew, vessel owners and fishing companies.
“The documents will be able to provide guidance to skippers and crew and vessel operators on the best approaches and best practise of not only handling by-catch but also create awareness 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,” said Tuqiri.
Tuqiri added that bycatch is an ongoing regional issue which poses a reputational risk to the Fiji offshore fisheries and it is the project’s vision that through the provision of affordable and accessible training for fishing crew on by-catch and now the introduction of these by-catch documents and bycatch mitigation tools for Fiji’s national fishing vessels.