Press Release – PNA Must Cut Purse-Seine Juvenile Bigeye Catches

HONOLULU (23 November 2013) A proposal that would subject the US longline tuna fisheries to a 45 percent reduction in bigeye tuna catch is being proposed by the Parties of Nauru Agreement (PNA), an organization that has supported rampant expansion of tuna purse-seining in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO), says Arnold Palacios, chair of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC). This impact of the purse-seine expansion has led to bigeye overfishing and a 75 percent reduction in bigeye yield.

Next month, at the 10th regular meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC10) in Cairns, Australia, 32 countries and territories will try to develop a new conservation and management measure applicable to the world’s largest tuna fisheries.

The PNA chief executive officer, Dr. Transform Aqorau, has stated in a Nov. 18, 2013, press release that new rules for tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific must cut catches of bigeye tuna by longline fishing vessels, especially in the high seas. Dr. Aqorau specifically singled out the Hawaii longline fleet, which ironically takes only a fraction of the WCPO bigeye catch and is considered the world’s best managed longline fishery.

The PNA manages the world’s largest tuna purse-seine fishery. Tuna purse-seiners target skipjack tuna, which is commonly used in canned tuna products. Much of this fishing is conducted around anchored and free floating fish aggregating devices (FADs), which results in the unintended catch of large numbers of juvenile bigeye tuna. This catch of juvenile bigeye, which accounts for about 85 percent of the bigeye tuna landed in the WCPFC Convention Area, has reduced the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) of the stock and has contributed to bigeye overfishing since the late 1980s.

Mature bigeye for the sashimi and fresh fish market is the main catch of the Hawaii longline fleet. The Hawaii longline fleet has been fishing at 90 percent of its 2004 bigeye catch as part of the current WCPFC management measures.

“We see no reason to make any further cuts to US bigeye longline catch limits because the Hawaii longline fleet operates thousands of miles from the high fishing mortality zone and there is no indication that the bigeye caught by the Hawaii fleet mixes with the fish caught in PNA waters,” Palacios says.

“Recent statements by Dr. Aqorau are misleading and avoid addressing the rapid expansion of purse-seine fishing that has put the sustainability of bigeye in jeopardy,” Palacios adds.

“Dr. Aqorau’s claim that PNA countries have taken many measures to reduce the impact of purse-seine fishing on bigeye tuna stocks is not supported by the evidence,” Palacios continues. “About 90 percent of the bigeye fishing mortality occurs in the equatorial zone. The purse-seine fleet that fishes in PNA waters has grown from about 200 vessels at the turn of the millennium to about 300 at present. The WCPO purse-seine catch of skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye has shown no sign of decline, and the purse-seine catch estimate for bigeye tuna for 2012 (69,164 mt) was again among the highest on record. On the other hand, the longline bigeye catch in the WCPO has declined from around 100,000 mt in 2004 to about 75,000 mt in 2012.”

Palacios also questions Dr. Aqorau’s statement that “we’ve got to make sure those nations that fish our tuna stocks also put in the hard work that goes into managing them.”

“The way I read it, the PNA has assumed ownership over all tuna in the Western and Central Pacific,” Palacios says. “Our Hawaii longline fleet catches fish in the US exclusive economic zone around Hawaii and in the adjacent high seas outside of the US zone. The PNA does not own these fish, and the WPRFMC has had management measures (vessel monitoring system, permit and reporting, observer coverage, limited entry, fishing vessel size limits, etc.) for the Hawaii longline fleet for more than 20 years. The most recent bigeye stock assessment shows that most of the fishing effort and fishing mortality for bigeye occurs from purse-seine and longline vessels fishing within the equatorial band between 10 deg N and 10 deg S. Approximately 98 percent of the Hawaii longline fleet bigeye tuna catch is caught above 10 deg north, outside of this band of intensive fishing activity.”

Palacios adds, “The excessive purse seine catches of small bigeye means that 75 percent of the potential yield of the Western and Central Pacific bigeye is being lost. These small fish could grow up and become valuable adult fish, which could bring global economic benefits. The real tragedy about bigeye is that the purse seiners are not even targeting bigeye, yet they are driving the stock’s MSY down. A sustainable bigeye fishery is in Hawaii’s interest, whereas the PNA couldn’t care less about bigeye.”

Kitty Simonds, executive director of the WPRFMC, expressed disappointment at the PNA remarks. “The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council has tried to help the purse-seine fishery by providing financial support to research aimed at minimizing juvenile bigeye purse-seine catch. But the bottom line is the longline fisheries, including the Hawaii fishery, have made real cuts in catches of bigeye. Instead of making nonsensical attacks on the well managed Hawaii longline fishery, which catches less than 3 percent of the total WCPO bigeye catch, the PNA should get its own house in order—cap purse-seine capacity, limit fishing catch and effort, and establish meaningful measures to reduce catches of juvenile bigeye tuna.”

The Western Pacific Fishery Management Council was established by Congress to manage fisheries in offshore waters around Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the US Pacific remote island areas. For more information, visit or email; phone (808) 522-8220, or fax (808) 522-8226.