Marshall Islands drives tuna initiatives

Giff Johnson


The Marshall Islands fisheries department is pushing two initiatives that could transform the country's engagement in the multi-billion dollar commercial tuna fishery in the region.

One initiative, to gain access to the lucrative European Union market, has been long-desired by industry.

The other, the fisheries department's aim to gain a bigger piece of the tuna revenue pie, is likely to cause industry concern, at least in the short-term.

Gaining access to Europe would require the establishment of the first "Competent Authority" in the Marshall Islands (RMI) that, once in place, can facilitate fish exports to the European Union, the world's largest seafood market. A Competent Authority is an entity that provides independent verification through inspections of vessels and processing plants, laboratory testing, and catch documentation to confirm that tuna catches for export meet EU requirements. The EU requires seafood exports from the RMI or other third countries meet compliance requirements through a recognized Competent Authority.

"The key is to establish national standards that meet international standards," said Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority (MIMRA) Director Glen Joseph, who is pushing the Competent Authority process forward. Majuro has established itself as a hub for the tuna industry in recent years - over 300,000 tons of tuna was transshipped through Majuro in 2018, worth close to half a billion dollars at last year's world market prices - industry players have encouraged the Marshall Islands to establish a Competent Authority to expand export options for the tuna industry, which now exports to markets in the United States, Canada, and Asia.

Piloting Marshall Islands participation in the entire "value chain" of tuna from the sale of fishing days to vessels to the delivery of tuna tonnage to processing plants. The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) "vessel day scheme" revolutionized island management of and engagement in the purse seine fishery since it went into play in 2010. The VDS, says Joseph, is a platform that allows for greater participation by individual PNA members or groups of islands. At the moment, the Marshall Islands, through MIMRA, sells several thousand fishing days annually to fishing companies, sales that generate around $25 million annually.

But Joseph wants to move the Marshall Islands beyond simply selling fishing days to engaging in additional steps in the chain from catch to processing - all of which contribute a piece of the multi-billion dollar value of the tuna industry in the Pacific.

Both the Competent Authority and participation in the tuna value chain are "opportunities we can harness and cater for," said Joseph. "We can use them as leverage to catch more benefits (for Marshall Islands). The vessel day scheme itself gives us the confidence and leverage to participate throughout the value chain."

PNA's establishment of its brand and marketing arm known as Pacifical is a prime example of how the islands can gain greater benefits, said Joseph. Pacifical has co-branded with global tuna companies to distribute sustainably caught tuna from PNA waters into a range of markets including Australia and Europe.

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Gang’s £180m fake tuna scam is caught in the net of Scottish officials

by John Jeffay

The Times

Scottish investigators have helped to uncover a £180 million scam involving dangerous mis-sold tuna.

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) played a leading role in a European inquiry as experts warned of a worldwide explosion in food crime. Faked and mis-sold produce generates £11 billion a year and can pose serious health risks.

Fraudsters are illegally treating tuna with vegetable extracts containing a high concentration of nitrates to alter the colour and give the impression of freshness. Gangs across the world have moved into food crime, lured by huge profits and fewer risks than the drugs or arms trades.

In one of the most alarming cases 14,000 litres of soft drink were tainted with potentially deadly levels of a chemical which is an active ingredient in erectile…

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Pew issues IATTC advice ahead of July meeting

By Undercurrent News

The Pew Charitable Trusts has issued some advice to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) on tightening fishery control ahead of its meeting on July 22-26 in Bilbao, Spain.

Firstly, it said, improving transshipment regulations can secure a legal seafood supply chain.

Transshipment refers to the practice of transferring catch from a fishing vessel to a carrier ship, which then delivers the fish to port. This is an important step in the global seafood supply chain that often takes place outside the view and reach of authorities—creating opportunities for illicit activities and the misreporting or nonreporting of catch. This year, IATTC members should adopt policies that increase the transparency and ease of verifying transshipment activities, Pew said.

Since the Commission last updated its rules on this widespread activity in 2012, the number of recorded transshipments has increased more than 65%, the NGO said. What’s more, a recent analysis using publicly broadcasted vessel-position data indicates that unauthorized transshipments may have occurred in the IATTC convention area in 2017.

Then, modernizing fishery management is needed, it said.

"Gone are the days when managers viewed setting short-term catch limits annually as the best way to manage fishing. Today, managers and other stakeholders are starting to realize that agreeing on a harvest strategy can prevent political gridlock from obstructing sustainable management. A harvest strategy is a science-based, precautionary system of multiyear management rules that guides fishing in the future to ensure that the stock remains healthy and triggers automatic actions if the stock is in danger of becoming overfished. Harvest strategies are tested via computer simulation to help ensure that their performance is in line with overall fishery objectives."

IATTC members should provide funding to accelerate the use of management strategy evaluation for all key species, Pew said. This modeling approach for testing rules on catch and fishing effort incorporates information about the biology and population dynamics of the stock, and considers environmental variation and uncertainty.

In addition, members should agree to create a scientist-manager dialogue working group. 

In the meantime, IATTC members must act quickly to end overfishing of valuable yellowfin, bigeye, and Pacific bluefin tuna. This will require agreeing to appropriate reductions in catch and fishing effort.

Finally, Pew said IATTC needs to fight illegal fishing through strong port controls.

The IATTC is the only tuna regional fisheries management organization without appropriate port state measures in place, it said.

To ensure that all members are playing by the same rules, the IATTC should adopt a strong set of minimum standards governing the use of ports by fishing vessels and inspections in those ports.

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Study Predicts Climate Change Could Result in Decline of Hawai'i's Bigeye Tuna

NOAA News:

“Managing bigeye tuna in the Pacific is already challenging, and now a new study shows that climate change may affect our supply of this fish, used to make the deliciously popular ʻahi poke. The study projects the decline of catch in Hawai‘i’s bigeye tuna fishery as climate change continues to unfold. However, alternate scenarios could bolster ecosystem resilience and limit fishery declines.

Scientists from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, the University of Hawai‘i, and the University of Tasmania teamed up to model the ecosystem in which Hawai‘i’s bigeye tuna fishery operates. Their model projected how increasing ocean temperatures and declining plankton would affect specific fish species. (Temperature and plankton values were from a suite of climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.) The model also predicted how different scenarios, such as decreased fishing effort, could change those effects.

The scientists found that climate change led to a decline in catch regardless of whether fishing effort increased, decreased, or remained the same. A decline in bigeye tuna catch means less ‘ahi poke at your local market. However, the study also revealed fishing scenarios that may allow the ecosystem to remain resilient in the face of climate change.  

“Rather than seeing the results as a doom-and-gloom future for Hawai‘i’s fishery, I see them as encouraging. They show that local choices matter, that we can decide which future scenario we want to pursue,” says lead author Phoebe Woodworth-Jefcoats. She points to two future scenarios in particular:  In one, the fishery persisted with today’s fishing effort. In another, the fishery slowly reduced its effort to half. Both scenarios showed similar declines in bigeye tuna catch, but in the second scenario, the ecosystem was resilient despite the effects of climate change, and the biomass of each fish species increased.

These results suggest that strategic fishing decisions could allow the industry to counteract some negative effects of climate change. The model used in this study gives the fishing industry greater power to inform its future path. The scientists hope that these results will help the fishery prepare for the effects of climate change.

This model can easily be tailored to other ecosystems and fisheries, which means it can be used by scientists and fishery managers in other regions. As the climate continues to change and demand for seafood increases, Hawai‘i’s poke bowls won’t be the only dish facing an uncertain future.”

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With billions at stake, Canada to show U.S. its fisheries protect whales

By: Paul Withers

Canada to submit progress report to U.S. outlining steps being taken to protect whales, marine mammals

In an effort to maintain access to the lucrative U.S. seafood market, Canada will submit a "progress report" to Washington this month outlining steps to protect whales and other marine mammals that interact with more than 200 Canadian fisheries.

The submission will be the first test of Canada's ability to meet upcoming requirements in the United States Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), and comes as three critically endangered North Atlantic right whales are believed entangled in fishing gear in Canadian waters. Efforts to free them are set for Tuesday, a day after Canada announced additional measures to protect North Atlantic right whales.

In total, six right North Atlantic right whales have died this year in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with none of the deaths directly attributed to fishing gear. 

Billions in exports at stake

By Jan. 1, 2022, all countries with fisheries interacting with marine mammals that export to the U.S. will have to demonstrate they have marine mammal protections that are the same or of comparable "effectiveness" to measures taken in the U.S.

The onus is on fishing nations to prove their programs and measures to address unintended catch of marine mammals meet U.S. standards.

Canada is the largest seafood supplier by value to the U.S. at $4.3 billion in 2017.

In July, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) will submit a "progress report" detailing protections for over 200 Canadian fisheries that interact with marine mammals, including the two most valuable and closely watched — lobster ($2.1 billion) and crab ($1 billion).

A preliminary response from the U.S., Canada's primary export market for seafood, is expected in September.

Failure could be 'catastrophic'

Melanie Sonnenberg represents inshore lobster fishermen on Grand Manan Island in New Brunswick.

"If it doesn't go well, it would be devastating for us because on the surface it has the potential to shut a fishery down in terms of what they're taking into the United States and we can't afford that," Sonnenberg said if Canada did not meet the requirements under the MMPA.

A December 2018 DFO briefing to stakeholders was no less stark.

According to the presentation, "a U.S. import ban on Canadian fish and seafood could be catastrophic for Canadian fisheries."

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Tri Marine Agrees to Sell its Global Tuna Supply Operations to Bolton Group

Tri Marine, one of the world’s leading sustainable tuna supply companies, today announced the sale of its global tuna supply business to its longtime partner, Bolton Group. Bolton Group has held significant minority interest in the Tri Marine global business since 2013. With this transaction Bolton Group now owns 100 percent of Tri Marine’s tuna supply chain business. The parties have agreed not to disclose the terms of the transaction. Tri Marine, a privately held company founded in 1971, operates one of the world’s most farreaching and sophisticated tuna supply businesses, with numerous subsidiaries around the globe. Bolton intends to retain the Tri Marine name and support the continued growth of the company. Bolton Group, also privately held, is one of the main players in the international consumer goods market across various product sectors, such as food, home and personal care, adhesives and cosmetics. It is the European leader of the canned tuna market with globally recognized brands such as Rio Mare, Saupiquet and Isabel. The longtime partnership between Tri Marine and Bolton Group has greatly improved the sustainability of tuna supply worldwide. Both companies are founding members of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), the main reference point for sustainable tuna fishing. Since the management buyout in 1985, Tri Marine CEO Renato Curto has led the company to become one of the largest, most sustainable and socially responsible tuna supply companies in the world. Under his leadership, Tri Marine has expanded its global reach and influence, and has led the industry with transparent and sustainable operations. From directly participating in by-catch mitigation research to achieving Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Fair Trade Certifications, Tri Marine and its partners have been industry innovators all along. “Bolton has been a valued Tri Marine customer and partner for a very long time,” Curto said. “This transaction ensures our growth and success well into the future. It places Tri Marine employees, partners, suppliers and customers in highly capable hands. I am grateful that Bolton recognizes the strategic value of maintaining Tri Marine’s existing workforce, network of suppliers and global customer base. We can now focus on the group’s core business and continue to move in the direction that today’s world commands. I am proud of this transaction and know that Bolton is committed to our shared values of transparency, environmental and social responsibility, sustainability, quality and innovation.” Curto will continue to serve as CEO of Tri Marine during a transition period. Marina Nissim, CEO of Bolton Group, said, “We are proud of our longtime partnership with Tri Marine and welcome the company into our family. We look forward to this exciting new chapter of providing customers worldwide with the highest-quality, sustainably caught tuna.

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Hawaii longline fleet still vulnerable to forced labor issues

By Aaron Orlowski

Three years after allegations of labor abuses in the Hawaii longline fishing fleet came to light, foreign workers continue to be excluded from the legal protections afforded to U.S. workers, according to a new report from the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute. 

But a special visa allowing workers to temporarily enter the U.S. could improve conditions by allowing workers to more easily access medical care and legal resources.

The report characterized working conditions as “extremely harsh,” but did not determine specific instances of labor abuse. Instead, the report concluded that foreign fishermen in the industry are vulnerable to forced labor.

About 700 foreign fishermen work on U.S. longline vessels in Hawaii, catching tens of millions of pounds of fish every year. The fishermen are confined to the pier area in Honolulu because of an odd visa system that technically denies them entry to the U.S., while allowing them to fish in a U.S. fleet.

The report relied on interviews with 43 fishermen, among other sources, and was produced by 10 Georgetown Law students.

“They cannot go ashore to seek legal counsel, visit doctors regularly (or) buy their own food,” Ashley Binetti Armstrong, a co-instructor for the class and the Dash-Muse teaching fellow at Georgetown, told SeafoodSource. “Their lack of legal status also affects the long and arduous path they must take to arrive in Hawaii, as well as the limitations on how often they can return home to see their families.”

The report followed up on a 2016 story published by the Associated Press that alleged labor abuse in the Hawaii longline fishery. At the time, the Hawaii Seafood Council responded by helping organize a task force, which developed an Employer’s Code of Conduct, a model crew contract and a crew handbook in alignment with guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The three resources were translated into the languages of fishermen and vessel owners, then distributed to labor agents, vessel owners and captains. The model crew contracts were implemented. 

“This effort was made to improve the mutual understanding between workers, agents, captains, and vessel owners of their responsibilities in providing decent work in the Hawaii fishing industry,” John Kaneko, program manager for the Hawaii Seafood Council, told SeafoodSource. 

In 2016, the Hawaii Seafood Council also commissioned a rapid assessment of the fishery that included interviews with 207 of the 622 workers in the fleet, from 105 of the 141 vessels, Kaneko said. In the assessment, no workers were observed to be on vessels under threat of violence or punishment.

None of the workers reported working on Hawaii vessels against their will, working to repay a loan or service related to employment, not being paid, not being able to return to their home country if desired, or being held responsible for the cost of repatriation at the end of a contract, Kaneko said. 

“Our crewmen are legal, fully documented, non-immigrant contract workers. They are not illegal, undocumented immigrants,” Kaneko said. “We need to make a clear distinction between the crimes of human trafficking and forced labor that should be investigated and prosecuted, and workplace grievances regarding working conditions that can be resolved without legal action.” 

Until 2004, fishermen were able to fly directly into Honolulu, according to the Georgetown report. Now, workers have to fly to a different port, often in Mexico or American Samoa, where vessel owners pick them up – a huge burden for both vessel owners and workers.

A special visa could change that.

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SPTC cuts fleet by more than half

By Press Release

SAN DIEGO, California—South Pacific Tuna Corporation announced yesterday that is selling more than half of its 14 U.S.-flagged purse seine fishing vessels to foreign operators, reducing its fleet to six by the end of the year. Approximately 12 U.S. captains and their crew will be relieved of duty. Additionally, the San Diego-based office and management team will be reduced to support the downsized fleet.

The sale of the vessels represents a reduction of 70,000 tons of U.S.-produced tuna, which will increase the U.S. seafood trade deficit by $80 million to $100 million annually. The move also reduces the volume of sustainable FAD-free, MSC certified fish for the global tuna market, including fish supplied under the Pacifical program. SPTC will continue to supply sustainably harvested tuna to its current customers with its remaining operations.

“Our fleet reduction is due in part to the U.S. government’s continued lack of support and the lack of interest in ratifying the 1988 South Pacific Tuna Treaty, renegotiated in 2016,” said SPTC executive director J. Douglas Hines. “Despite our efforts to work with the Trump Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has not reciprocated and continues its overly aggressive compliance and enforcement actions.”

NOAA compliance authorities have made it virtually impossible for the U.S. distant water tuna fleet to compete against the fleets from China, Korea and Taiwan. Unlike foreign competitors who are strongly supported by their governments, the U.S. fleet faces policies by its own government that are non-supportive and essentially anti-industry and anti-trade.

With the withdrawal of the U.S. fleet from the Western Pacific, the United States’ influence in those waters will continue to decline as China, Korea, and Russia take a larger role in the region.

“In the global priorities of the U.S. Government, the Western Pacific has become an afterthought,” said Hines. “But as Pres. Ronald Reagan recognized in 1988, the South Pacific Tuna Treaty is a critical step to ensuring American vessels and commerce continue to lead in the region and the world. The reduction of the U.S. fleet will be a devastating blow for the international policy community as well as the Western Pacific sustainable fishery ecosystem.”

“It is a sad day for us all after fighting all these years as we see the end of long legacy of Tuna harvesting by U.S. interest,” Hines added. “However, we leave with pride of years of fighting to improve the region.”

SPTC will continue to evaluate the opportunities and challenges for its remaining U.S.-flagged purse seine operations as it continues to operate the balance of its fleet, but with guarded hope.

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UN releases first draft of critical high seas treaty

By Undercurrent News

he UN has released the first draft of its new legally binding instrument for the conservation of marine life in international waters, following a series of discussions that began in September last year.

The Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) agreement aspires to lay down an official set of regulations governing how UN member states make use of the high seas, with the final version of the new regulations officially slated for release in 2020.

The second set of negotiations took place in April, with the third round due to run from Aug. 19-30, 2019. However, given the "significant challenges" involved in addressing the topics which form the BBNJ, the World Ocean Council (WOC) has said that more discussions than were initially planned could be required.

According to the WOC, those sectors which stand to be affected by the final agreement include fisheries, shipping, geophysical surveys, deep sea mining, and marine genetic resource firms.

As evidenced by the draft document, the final agreement could have widespread ramifications for any industry which conducts some or all of its business in the high seas (listed below):

  • New, stricter requirements and controls by states over the activities conducted by
    companies under their control or jurisdiction

  • Expanded or new national, regional and/or international authorities for BBNJ

  • New mechanisms of declaration, authorization, and reporting of activities to authorities

  • Requirements for environmental impact assessments (EIAs) prior to operations or activities

  • Requirements for 'Strategic EIAs' for a broader suite of regular activities over a wider area

  • Requirements for the monitoring and reporting of activities and impacts (or lack thereof)

  • Assessment of cumulative impacts (e.g. marine sound, climate change, acidification)

  • Strengthening of surveillance and security mechanisms to protect activities and resources

  • Significant ocean areas identified as requiring special consideration for industry operations

  • Limitation of geographical scope of activities through area-based management that establishes new area limits to activities, including on the seabed (e.g. seamounts)

  • New conflicting or competing activities with the expansion of marine genetic resource exploration and exploitation (e.g. around hydrothermal vents)

  • Requirements for private sector input throughout the BBNJ agreement implementation, e.g. through public consultation, especially as more specific rules and regulations are developed

The WOC, which acts as a representative for the ocean business community within the BBNJ discussions, has said there is still time for ocean industries to engage and have a voice in the negotiations. 

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