Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Nets called biggest threat to bigeye tuna numbers

By Gary T. Kubota


An official with the Hawaii Longline Association said yesterday that recent data show a need for more regulation of purse seine fishing of bigeye tuna in the central and western Pacific.

That is a change from a few years ago, when the focus was on longline fishing, Scott Barrows said.

"This year is an entirely different story," Barrows said.

"There is good data being developed. I'm hoping for good things to come about in the future. It's just a slow process."

Hawaii's longline fleet virtually stopped fishing for bigeye in the central and western Pacific on Nov. 22, after reaching its quota, and has moved operations to the eastern Pacific.

The western and central Pacific supplies about 54 percent of the world's tuna — about 1.3 million tons annually.

From the 1960s to 2008 there has been a 75 percent decline in bigeye tuna capable of spawning in the central and western Pacific, scientists say.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which completed its weeklong meeting yesterday at the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort at Ko Olina, agreed that efforts to halt the decline in the bigeye population have been unsuccessful; it plans more talks next year.

The commission's primary focus on new bigeye tuna measures is on purse seine fishing in areas such as Micronesia and Melanesia. Purse seine fishing involves laying a large net to encircle schools of fish.

Scientists have recommended that countries limit the amount of purse seine fishing using fish aggregating devices (FAD) where there is a concentration of juvenile bigeye.

But some island nations have been reluctant to go along with the FAD reduction because the method is also used to capture skipjack tuna for canneries.

The United States and other countries have joined in funding a research project to look at ways to reduce the purse seine catch of juvenile bigeye tuna.

"It clearly is looking at global solutions," said Susan Jackson, president of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.

Jackson, whose nongovernmental organization is coordinating and raising money for the multimillion-dollar research project, said scientists will also look at ways to release juvenile bigeye when caught in a purse seine nets.

Japan has proposed placing a cap on the number of purse seine fishing vessels, but some developing countries that want to expand their fleets oppose a cap.

The United States is renegotiating a 1987 Multilateral Treaty with the independent Pacific island nations that limits the American fleet to 40 vessels. The U.S. purse seine fleet is among the largest in the region.

The full commission is scheduled to meet next December.

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