The Promotion of Pole & Line Fishing in the Pacific Isalnds - Emerging Issues and Lessons Learned

Gillett R (2011) The Promotion of Pole & Line Fishing in the Pacific Isalnds - Emerging Issues and Lessons Learned. International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Virginia USA

This study examines the various issues associated with promoting pole-and-line fishing and attempts to derive lessons from experience that may guide future development efforts. The study aims to determine what has been achieved in the promotion of pole-and-line fishing, where areas of opportunity lie, and how appropriate the current development models are. Pole-and-line promotion “Pole-and-line promotion” is considered in this study to be those activities that contribute to the creation, enhancement, or revitalisation of pole-and-line fisheries and/or the associated bait fisheries – at a level higher than that of a single entity. Evolution of pole-and-line fishing in the Pacific Islands Pole-and line catches from vessels based in the Pacific Islands area reached a maximum about 30 years ago. At that time the number of locally-based pole-and-line vessels operating in the region was about 100 to 120. This number declined to 14 in 2002, and to 12 in 2006. During a survey for the present study, the only pole-and-line vessels operating the central Pacific were one vessel each in the Solomon Islands, Palau, and Hawaii. Current pole-and-line fishing in the Pacific Islands The Hawaii and Palau operations are the unprofitable last remnants of fishing fleets in a classic decline. Emotional attachment to the vessels, rather than financial gain, plays a major role in continuing the fishing activities. The Solomon Islands operation represents a cautious re-entry into pole-and-line fishing by a large vertically-integrated firm. Pole-and-line production outside the Pacific Islands The major pole-and-line producers are Japan (about 125,000 tonnes of skipjack and yellowfin annually), Indonesia (100,000 tonnes), and the Maldives (100,000 tonnes). The world’s production is about 400,000 tonnes annually, some of which is for domestic consumption. There are between 100,000 and 150,000 tonnes of pole-and-line caught skipjack and yellowfin on the international market. Developments in the UK tuna market There has been a flurry of NGO activity in the UK recently, intended to raise consumer awareness about fisheries sustainability issues and to pressure major brands to adopt more sustainable sourcing policies, including the purchasing of pole-and-line tuna. Several chains of retail stores have made some form of commitment to pole-and-line purchasing. It should be noted that those are not binding agreements, nor is there an obligation to continue the agreements in perpetuity. There has been recent talk of “a gold rush for pole-and-line tuna” and now pole-and-line tuna is apparently receiving a premium over purse seine tuna. MSC certification of FAD-free tuna A crucially important point relating to the demand for pole-and-line tuna is the MSC certification of FAD-free purse seine tuna. It is quite likely that current commitments to buying only pole-and-line tuna could evolve into commitments not to buy tuna from FAD associated purse seine fishing – should a certified product become available. Environmental and social considerations of pole-and-line fishing The very positive environmental and social aspects of pole-and-line fishing are well documented, and include benefits related to labour and catch composition. Pole-and-line vessels use between eight and nine times more labour per unit of tuna than purse seining. In general, the non-skipjack catch of pole-and-line fishing is lower than that of free-school purse seining and considerably lower than that from FAD-associated purse seining. There are, however, some aspects of pole-and-line fishing that have negative environmental implications: issues relating to bait fishing and relatively high fuel use. Investment in pole-and-Line fishing To some extent an examination of investment in pole-and-line operations can provide some insight into the success of pole-and-line promotion efforts. The very limited amount of recent investment in pole-and-line fishing in the region supports the contention that it is difficult to identify many cases of success in pole-and-line promotion. The lesson appears to be that “talk is cheap” when it comes to making investments in pole-and-line fisheries. Success of pole-and-line promotion In the last twenty years success in pole-and-line promotion has been elusive. In the Indian Ocean there is little evidence to indicate that any of the interventions have resulted in significant creation, enhancement, or revitalisation of pole-and-line fisheries, with the possible exception of the Maldives. In the Pacific Islands judging success is complicated by the recent nature of many of the FFA promotional activities. In a different sense, generation of demand for pole-and-line tuna by public campaigns has been quite successful, especially in the UK – where the current situation has been described as a “gold rush for pole-and-line tuna”. The Greenpeace publication on pole-and-line fisheries The Greenpeace publication “Developing Sustainable and Equitable Pole and Line Fisheries for Skipjack” appears to be the most widely circulated document promoting pole-and-line fishing – and therefore deserves some scrutiny. The statements in the publication on the environmental and social aspects of pole-and-line fishing are quite accurate and commendable. The document, however, indicates that the economics of pole-and-line fishing are more favourable than they actually are. The economic issues in question are not merely “details”, but rather are at the core of the difficulty of establishing pole-and-line fisheries in the Pacific Islands. Bait fishing In the Pacific Islands the availability of bait, rather than tuna, has often been the resource factor limiting expansion of a pole-and-line tuna fishery. The main lessons from extensive SPC baitfish work in the late 1970s is that the large islands in the west of the Pacific Island region have the best potential for bait-fisheries for pole-and-line fishing. Small islands in the east and atolls have the least potential. Mitigating the scarcity of baitfish There have been a large number of efforts over the last four decades to develop ways of getting around the scarcity of baitfish There is no evidence to show that any of these attempts have resulted in a remarkable improvement in productivity, or a reversal of the demise of pole-and-line fishing. This has implications for proposals to revitalize pole-and-line fishing in the region that are based on innovative bait fishing schemes. FFA bait fishingwork The major elements of the proposed FFA bait fishing schemes are the use of the Indonesian “bagan” bait fishing technique, community involvement in bait fishing, and the use of baitfish management plans. The strengths and weaknesses of these elements are discussed. In conclusion, it cannot be automatically assumed that bagans, community involvement, and management plans will resolve baitfishing problems experienced in the past. Financial information Information from a company in the Solomon Islands shows high production costs and low productivity of pole-and-line fishing relative to that of purse seining. Historical information from pole-and-line fishing in PNG shows that the real price of tuna today is less than half the price of what it was during the height of the fishery 30 years ago. Economics of large-scale and small-scale pole-and-line operations The economics of the large-scale pole-and-line operations are reasonably well known, at least to the types of companies capable of investing in such ventures. The economics of small-scale pole-and-line operations represent “uncharted territory” and there is considerable speculation involved in anybody making annual catch estimates, considering the unpredictability of small-scale producers, especially in a complex fishing operation located in a developing country that involves both tuna fishing and bait fishing. Types of pole-and-line fisheries being contemplated Many people promoting pole-and-line feel strongly that the development of the fishery should be led by the private sector, but the results of the present study indicate that most companies that may have an interest in pole-and-line have commercial-type priorities: catch lots of fish cheaply, stick them into cans, and sell them at a premium in the EU market – and certainly not get into the details of community-level development work. In some respects, the factors that make pole-and-line fishing attractive to NGOs and governments of Pacific Island countries are precisely the things that commercial tuna companies want to avoid: long-term village commitments, issues of social equity, and purchasing products from rural producers of unknown reliability. This situation is altered somewhat by community development obligations stipulated in on-shore investment agreements of some Pacific Island Countries. Positive features and innovations Numerous factors affecting pole-and-line success have degraded in the past few decades. It is important, however, to identify features/innovations perceived to have improved – and scrutinize them for their likelihood of occurring and magnitude of positive contribution. The most important positive factors/innovations that emerged in this study appear to be: (a) premiums for pole-and-line tuna, (b) new vessel designs, and (c) a new bait fishing scheme. The opportunity for pole-and-line development There is a great amount of uncertainty associated with this subject, as evidenced by the wildly differing opinions on pole-and-line potential held by the large number of people interviewed in the present study. Nevertheless, some thoughts on potential may be useful – if for no other reason than encouraging a rigorous debate on the subject. The opportunity for large-scale pole-and-line development in the region is highly dependent on a significant rise in the current premium for pole-and-line tuna. The future of the premium is far from clear, but a rise is unlikely to occur if the FAD-free purse seine fishery in the region is certified and remains certified. The opportunity for small-scale pole-and-line development is highly dependent on a significant amount of long-term support through government or donor funding. Following from this and using information presented in this report (trends in the fleet, success of pole-and-line promotion elsewhere, recent investment, bait-fishing potential), the opportunity for pole-and-line development in the Pacific Islands region could be described as “modest at best”, with considerable differences between countries. The main lesson in pole-and-line promotion The main lesson appears to be that the pole-and-line development or revitalization in the region is a very difficult task and certainly not as easy as stated in some of the NGO promotional literature. Experience from other regions seems to indicate that that the Pacific Islands is not the only region struggling to succeed in pole-and-line promotion.