Chinese tuna longliner. (Photo: IATTC)
Chinese subsidies are damaging the Pacific Islands tuna sector
Friday, August 17, 2012, 23:10 (GMT + 9)
The Pacific Islands tuna industry maintains that fishing pressure on southern albacore tuna is in truth much worse than the figures suggested by scientific studies. Moreover, the Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association (PITIA) stated that a fleet of new Chinese boats has made it impossible for local fishers to make a living as part of the industry.
In the last 2 years, between 200-250 new Chinese vessels have arrived in the fishery, the Association estimates, and there is now a total of about 590 Chinese and Taiwanese vessels actively fishing.
PITIA Chairperson Charles Hufflett said the big fuel subsidies the Chinese pay their fleet are having a damaging effect because they make it impossible for the Pacific Industry to compete with them. Any cost of fuel above USD 700 a ton is subsidized, he said.
Although the fishing activity is still not at maximum sustainable yield, which is 85,000 tonnes, boats are currently catching 81,000 tonnes, Hufflett told Radio Australia.
“The problem is there are too many vessels catching too little fish and that the catch each day is below that which is economic for an unsubsidised fleet to fish,” he explained.
He believes scientists should be imposing a Maximum Economic Yield catch limit -- that level of catch at which you can economically, sustainably catch in that fishery -- rather than a Maximum Sustainable Yield limit.
Furthermore, Hufflet explained that the industry is usually about two years ahead of science, which means that scientific data is showing numbers higher than those in reality.
“We have had now three successive years now of lowering and poor catches in the southern albacore fishery. That information is still not filtering through into the science process,” he stated.
To address this, he said conservation measures need to be enforced. For instance, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) already has a conservation management measure for southern albacore south of 20 degrees south, which restricted the increase in vessel numbers – but this has not occurred and instead the numbers have increased.
The other issue, he said, is the Chinese subsidies because they make the playing field uneven.
“If you have got a subsidised fleet fishing, then the unsubsidised fleet clearly cannot enter or stay in that fishery, and so subsidies have to be removed,” he elaborated.
Hufflett stressed the importance of tougher catch limits and said it is catch limits or vessel numbers that is really the answer.
“You simply have too many vessels fishing in that fishery and so long as they stay there is no chance, or little chance, of the Pacific Island nations fishing capacity increasing,” he added.
PITIA’s primary role is to work with the National Tuna Associations of the 14 Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) countries to provide updated information on regional matters, specifically regarding commercial operations.
By Natalia Real