In Indonesia, new hope for the sustainability of pole & line tuna fisheries
It’s one of the most fascinating fishing scenes you could imagine: men standing on a vessel deck, feverishly flinging their rods in and out of the sea, and each time pulling out a tuna that is added to a shimmering heap of fish on the deck. This fishing technique -- pole and line -- is receiving growing attention as a more sustainable fishing method compared to long line and purse seine fishing, notably at the International Coastal Tuna Business Forum last May in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Transforming the supply chainThe event, which was organised by Indonesia’s Ministry for Regional Development (KPDT), the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF), the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) and WWF, was instrumental in meshing demand and supply for one of the world’s most wanted fish, at a time when more and more seafood companies are becoming increasingly selective about how the fish they buy is caught and processed. For example, UK-based retailer Sainsbury’s, which participated in the Forum, is set to require all its seafood to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) by 2020 -- and tuna caught by pole and line has a place in this plan.
Such concerns by the companies on the “pull” end of the supply chain are good news for tuna in Indonesian waters (and beyond): with the bluefin and bigeye tuna categorized as overfished, and the yellowfin tuna fully exploited, there is little time to transform the industry so that tuna stocks do not vanish.
Still room for improvementAs promising as it may be as a fishing technique for the sustainability of fish stocks, pole and line is not without problems. According to WWF-Indonesia’s Abdullah Habibi, who leads the organization’s tuna conservation work, to lure tuna to their boats fishers rely on dried anchovies as live bait. Pole and line fishers are thought to use substantial amounts of this stuff, with up to 30% of the bait perishing by the time the vessel has arrived to the skipjack fishing grounds. And then there is bycatch. Estimates vary as to how much unintentional catch lands on the decks, but according to research carried out by the Secretariat for the Pacific Community (SPC), up to 30% of the catch from pole and line fishers consists of juvenile yellowfin tuna, big eye tuna and albacore.
A movement toward ‘better tuna’For WWF, the International Coastal Tuna Business Forum fits into an ongoing framework for reforming tuna fisheries in Indonesia. As early as 2007, WWF facilitated an assessment for reforming tuna fisheries based on a Ecosystem-Based Management approach, followed by pre-assessments of several tuna species. Using the assessments' recommendations, a multi-stakeholder consultation workshop held in 2010 produced the Indonesian Tuna Action and Management Plan, a significant blueprint to put tuna fisheries on a course toward sustainable management. All this was carried out in close collaboration with the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries of Indonesia.
Considering the migratory nature of tuna, measures taken nationally may not mean much without complementary measures at the regional level. Through its regional Coral Triangle Programme, WWF promotes sustainable tuna fisheries by engaging with players in the tuna fishing industry along the tuna supply chain and through science-based activities (e.g. tuna tagging in the Philippines and Indonesia, collection of baseline information on Fish Aggregating Devices, or FADs, fish data collection through observers on board and logbooks, circle hooks on tuna longline to reduce turtle bycatch) to fill critical information gaps. WWF also works with local fishing communities through Public Private Partnerships called Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIPs) that are all about building capacity among fisherfolk on sustainable tuna fishing practices, which can help restore fish stocks, improve their livelihood and shield them from poverty.
Moving toward MSCUltimately, FIPs are a jumping board toward MSC certification, which is what the pole and line industry needs to aim for in order to break into more “mature” markets where there is higher demand for sustainable produce. Encouragingly, a MSC pre-assessment in 2009-2010 suggests that hand line, with pole and line tuna fishing, is the Indonesian fisheries with the best prospects for certification.
At the International Coastal Tuna Business Forum, the pole and line sector got a lift that may have brought it a few steps closer towards MSC. During the event, a new task force -- Asosiasi Perikanan Pole and Line dan Handline Indonesia (AP2HI) -- was inaugurated to represent the interests of this fisheries. Among others, the association seeks to act as a “shared voice” for the diverse businesses engaged in Indonesia’s pole and line and handline industry; promote a fair, transparent and sustainable utilisation of the resource; and ensure the industry conducts itself in a responsible and insightful manner with regards to the environment and dependent communities.
For WWF’s Abdullah Habibi, “the new association provides a good opportunity to drive significant improvement in this tuna fishery and also to strengthen the voice of this particular part of the tuna sector versus the powerful purse seine lobby.”