Fiji's Path To A Sustainable Fishery

Posted on 27 May 2013

Fiji’s tuna industry has taken a significant leap in demonstrating the sustainability of their fishing practices.
Fiji’s tuna industry has taken a significant leap in demonstrating the sustainability of their fishing practices.

In December 2012, the Fiji Tuna Boat Owners Association (FTBOA)’s albacore longline fishery achieved the remarkable feat of becoming the country’s first to be certifiedas sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

What is more, the achievement is the first of its kind for any tuna longline fisheryaround the world. The collaborative support from the fisheries stakeholders, including WWF who provided technical input through its submissions, was vital in ensuring a robust outcome.

Given that certification has been achieved, it becomes even more important to maintain the certification.

But what needs to happen fora fishery to stay certified?

Firstly, effective management systems that involve legislation, regulations and management plans need to be in place and nationally implemented. Secondly, best fishing practices need to be observed to reduce the accidental capture of marine turtles, sharks and other endangered species. Thirdly, the regional fisheries management organisation has to adopt critical conservation and management measures that ensure responsible fishing.Finally, we as individuals need to shift our attitudes toward recognising that our resources are finite; that our responsibility to safeguarda sustainable supply of seafood forFiji’s economic, ecological and social well-being is extremelyfundamental.

What is the MSC?

The growing concern over rapidly collapsing fisheries around the world gave impetus to the formation of what is now the most high-profile and crediblecertification scheme in the world – the MSC.

As well as being a certification scheme, MSC has an ecolabel that means fisheries and seafood products can be identified by anyone as having met the global standard for sustainability.

The standard used by accredited third-party certifiers to assess performance comprises three fundamental principles. The fishery should be able to demonstrate through their practices that;

(1) a healthy target species population is maintained;

(2) the health of the ecosystem within which the target species interacts is upheld; and

(3) effective management systems exist or are put in place to accomplish principles 1 and 2.

Additionally, once a fishery earns the right to be MSC certified and to use the logo in the market place, the MSC Chain of Custody Standard enablesconsumers to trace their seafood back to the fishery; down to the very last detail such as the name of the vessel that harvested the fish and from which location.

It is through such platforms that a grand vision of a future where mankind continues to enjoy the bounties of the oceans with minimal impact on the environment can be realised; a future where people live in harmony with nature.

What does the certification mean to the FTBOA?

Getting a fishery certified can be a costly process.However, with the financial assistance provided by the Forum Fishery Agency’s EU-funded DevFish Project, the FTBOA successfully underwent the assessment.

Achieving MSC certification is a massive step in the right direction and that the fishery has met a particular set of benchmarks. It also means that consumers can rest assured the seafood they purchase comes from a well-managed fishery and by doing this they are supporting sustainable and healthy oceans.

Members of the FTBOA, including Solander (Pacific) Limited, the Fiji Fish Marketing Group Ltd, Sea Quest (Fiji) Ltd and Cleveland Limitedcan now access new markets that source seafood products from certified fisheries.

In fact, the FTBOA have begun observing positive changes in the market as noted by Association Secretary and Chief Executive Officer for Fiji Fish Marketing Group Ltd, Russell Dunham.

“Already we have seen positive results in the market, with new market opportunities being opened to us as more and more buyers are sourcing fish including tuna from certified sustainable fisheries,” he said.

In addition to gaining access to markets that sell certified seafood, FTBOA members will also be able to add value to existing products, maximise long-term competitiveness and achieve export earnings.For example,Solander (Pacific) Limited is nowselling MSC-certified albacore loins directly to ANOVA Seafood BV in Europe as opposed to exporting frozen whole albacore to their traditional canned market.Consequently, employment iscreated locally for the processing of albacore loins and Solander receives a higher net return.

From an environmental perspective, a long-term supply of seafood issafeguarded through the implementation of best fishing practices supported by effective management systems as mentioned in the outset.

Some of these fishing practices include turtle release mechanisms and the removal of shark-targeting fishing gears such as wire tracers. The removal of wire tracers since January 2012 saw one fishing company record a reduction in the number of shark landings by up to 70 per cent.Furthermore, the use of circle hooks on longline gears instead of conventional J-hooks has seen a reduction in the accidental capture of marine turtles.

Way forward

To retain full MSC certification, the FTBOA must address eight conditions during the life of the certificate before they can be re-certified in 2017. These conditions encompass elements relating to reference points, harvest strategies, bycatch and sanctions for noncompliance.

Reference points are benchmark values that help managers understand how the fishery is performing, and are often based on an indicator such as fishery stock size or the level of fishing. Harvest strategies are pre-agreed actions and rules to be taken by a management body that are triggered by reference points; and bycatch pertains to non-target species such as sharks and turtles.

Although the onus is now on the FTBOA to meettheconditions, the need for institutional support from the Fiji government and regional fisheries management bodies such as the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) cannot be overemphasised.

Due to conflicting interests at the WCPFC level, reaching consensus can be a challenge. However, delay at securing a measure at the regional level does not mean that we cannot do anything at the national level. In fact, it means Fiji can lead the way and set the standard in the Pacific, by showing the world that we can take a proactive role by working with science advisors to develop reference points and harvest strategies for our own, vital albacore fishery.

The FTBOA have taken the first step in demonstrating their commitment to long-term sustainability. To maintain MSC certification and the sustainability of our albacore fisheries, it is critical that political support is given to ensure the governance of the fishery is strengthened.

Written by Seini Tawakelevu, Consultant Fisheries Project at WWF South Pacific 
Certified Albacore Tuna at Fiji Fish Marketing Group Limited
© WWF South Pacific
Offloading tuna for processing at the Fiji Fish factory outlet
© WWF South Pacific
Emptying a container load of albacore tuna for processing before export
© WWF South Pacific
Offloading Certified Albacore Tuna from Solander Pacific longline fishing vessels at the Walu Bay jetty in Suva
© WWF South Pacific
Processing certified albacore for export at the Solander Pacific factory in Suva
© WWF South Pacific