Earlier this year, we shared with you interesting information about the four important tuna species in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).
These four species are the albacore (Thunnus alalunga) or yatuloa as it's known in the local name; yellowfin (Thunnus albacores) or yatunitoga; bigeye (Thunnus obesus) or yatulevu; and the skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis) or yatusewa. It also goes by the name yatuvuai.
These tuna species are highly migratory in nature ù they don't need visas to swim across national borders and therefore managing them, or rather managing those that catch them, is only as effective as our ability to enforce management measures domestically, regionally, and internationally.
Tuna are harvested by domestic fishing boats and distant water fishing nations (DWFN) using long-line, purse seines and to a lesser degree, pole and line. Fishing boats are issued with licences, at a cost, by Pacific Island countries to fish in their exclusive economic zones (EEZ).
Not all fishing boats catch tuna legally in sovereign waters. Some vessels carry out illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing activities better known IUU boats. In an earlier article by Maria Turaga titled "Who gives a heck about tuna?" (The Fiji Times 12/11/11) she noted a statement by New Zealand PM John Key highlighting the global tuna catch estimated to be worth around $US4.3 billion ($F7.6 billion). The Pacific Ocean accounts for 60 per cent of the global tuna catch and $US40 million ($F72 million) is lost annually through IUU fishing.
The fact that tuna species are very fertile can be misleading because the continuously increasing global demand for tuna either as canned tuna flakes, sashimi (raw fish) or katsuobushi (dried, fermented and smoked skipjack) has provided the impetus to catch more.
For some of our smaller Pacific Island neighbours, revenue earned from the export of tuna or from the fees earned through licences is the mainstay of their national economies. Tuna therefore don't just provide a source of protein, their very presence and extraction contributes to the ecological, social, and economic wellbeing.
The move towards the sustainable management of tuna resources has been strongly influenced by market forces and consumer demand particularly from Europe and North America where there is an ever growing demand for sustainably caught tuna.
A major milestone for Pacific Island tuna fisheries has been the attainment of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification by eight Pacific Island countries that are parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), for their free swimming skipjack fishery.
So you may ask, how on earth can skipjack tuna be free swimming when it's already swimming freely in the sea and it's highly migratory anyway? This term refers to skipjack tuna that are caught by purse seiners without the aid of Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs) - floating objects that fish gravitate towards because they harbour nutrients and food. Furthermore and just as important, the skipjack tuna must be caught at a specified distance away from a FAD to qualify them as 'free swimming'.
While the MSC certificate has been awarded to the PNA, a few conditions are tied to it that will need to be addressed within the five-year life span of the certificate. Nevertheless, this is a remarkable achievement for the Pacific Islands, making it the largest tuna fishery globally to attain MSC certification.
It's a giant step towards developing a Pacific culture hooked on to sustainable seafood and save enough for the future.
And what is sustainable seafood?
Keep with The Fiji Times because over the next few weeks we will attempt to build our understanding on sustainable seafood, consumer choices and how our food choices have an impact on the environment.
I've often compared a healthy fishery to a bank account. Think of the EEZ as the bank, the tuna and other marine resources as our savings and investments that we can gain interest from if we give it time to mature. If we take care of them, they will take care of us. Let's work at strengthening our joint savings, invest wisely, and withdraw with care.