Monday, January 24, 2011

Tuna Fisheries - it's complicated!

I must confess that my head is spinning.
I recently had a conversation with one of my very smart friends about the plight of the Northern Bluefin and he said look at the European subsidies. Without those, much of the large scale fisheries would not be commercially viable and the overfishing would not be happening.

The above graphic, already posted here, appears to be confirming just that.
Same same for this recent important paper by U.R. Sumalia & al. Thankfully, the Pew has taken the time to summarize it in this fantastic synopsis that I invite everybody to read in its entirety.
This is the ingress:

Ocean Science Summary: Subsidizing Global Fisheries

Global fisheries receive billions of dollars in subsidies each year.
Although some of this money, such as that to improve fisheries management, can promote sustainable fishing practices, other funding can lead to overfishing in the world’s oceans. Capacity-enhancing subsidies, for example for fuel or boat construction, reduce costs for fishers, enabling them to increase their capacity and catch more fish. The unintended consequence of this kind of assistance is that encouraging fishers to bring in larger catches contributes to unsustainable fishing practices over the long-term.

Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia and his co-authors improved upon previous estimates of global subsidies using updated data and methodology and calculated global amounts and types of fisheries subsidies for 2003.
They found global subsidies totaled roughly $27 billion, 60 percent of which went toward unsustainable capacity-enhancing subsidies. Instead of continuing to invest billions of dollars into activities that aggravate overfishing, the authors suggest directing those funds toward fishery conservation and improved management.
This Pew Ocean Science Series report is a summary of the scientists’ findings.

And there's more evidence, e.g this report by the WWF, this remarkable and shocking interactive map by Fishsubsidy and these recent statements by Maria Damanaki.

So, can we save the oceans by eliminating all subsidies?
It sure looks like a beginning - maybe. Alas, the more I try to explore the topic of global fisheries, the more I come to realize that the issue is unbelievably multifaceted and that there are no quick fixes and out of the box solutions - incidentally very much confirming my visceral unease about the strategies, or lack of, adopted in the Doha debacle!

Take the fisheries for Tuna.
It interests me insofar as it is well researched and documented and mutatis mutandis, in many ways an excellent proxy for the fisheries for Sharks. Prima vista, and like in the case of Sharks, the situation appears crystal clear: one Asian villain is enticing the fishermen to fish a species into extinction.
But then, I stumble across this remarkable (and probably accurate) in depth exposé and read with consternation that it is none other than the so much reviled Japan that is urging a reduction in world wide quotas of Tuna, demanding better management and actively combating (yes this would again be Maria!) illegal, unreported and unregulated catches! Not plausible? Independent verification here, and here is the synopsis of the whole investigative report!
So who is the villain now - maybe these people?

Long story short: it is complicated - that being a massive understatement!
If you really have the time to spare, please read this latest document by the FAO. It brims with detail and the more one reads, the more one gets a picture of the massive scope and inter-dependency (check out the graph on p. 101!) of global Tunas fisheries.
Here are the Conclusions.

Most of the RFMO conventions define MSY as the reference point for stock management. Under such definition, almost all the world’s tuna stocks are nearly fully exploited and some are overexploited. Some of the stocks which are not yet overexploited are being overfished (i.e. fishing mortality is higher than the level corresponding to MSY).
Therefore, it is a crucial time to establish proper management of the stocks and to thus decide the future of tuna resources.

The sustainable use of the stocks is crucial for the industry.
The most serious difficulty in management is the increasing fishing capacity compared to the available stocks. Therefore, in terms of proper management, global control of fishing capacity, not only that of industrial fisheries but also of small-scale coastal fisheries, is the key to success. There are many options for holding fishing mortality at a proper level, such as catch quotas, effort control, time-area closures, size limits and many others. However, all of these will be very difficult to agree upon in an international forum as long as there is an excess of fishing capacity.

Up until the end of the twentieth century, the tuna fishing industry was singly focused on how to increase efficiencies in fishing, processing and trading in order to increase profit.
Under current circumstances, consideration of ecosystems and the sustainability of both target and non-target species, as well as many other socio-economic factors (such as rising costs of fuel and labour and strict regulations on industrial waste discharges and emissions) are necessary. Sometimes these considerations result in an increase in cost and a decrease in efficiency for the industry.

Over the past several decades consumers have enjoyed a constant increase in fish supply and the ready availability of low-priced products, but now they must also assume the increased production costs associated with the factors listed above.
This scenario is analogous to that of a pie that has already expanded dramatically to its maximum, but for which the number of pie consumers (i.e. fishers) has also increased and is still increasing.

At present, the most important issue is how to manage the number of potential pie consumers and how to distribute the pie among them (e.g. using fishing capacity control measures and/or catch allocations).
This problem involves many complicated aspects including allocations between developed and/or distant water fishing nations and coastal and/or developing countries, among fishing gears, and between products (e.g. fresh fish versus canned fish).

As shown in this report, the industry has shown great changes at all stages in response to a variety of socio-economic factors, while management has remained focused on the biology of individual stocks.

When the tuna industry is as complicated as it is now (interaction among species, fishing gear types, areas, products and consumers, and individual country’s economic situations), then management needs also to be realistic and practical to succeed.
For example, if the maximum biological gain is to be the goal, all tuna should be taken at the size where biomass is maximized (see Section 4.2.7) assuming that the spawner-recruitment relationship is not affected by catching fish at this critical level. However, if we try to do this, the production cost would be far more than current cost (i.e. most of the fish would have to be taken by longline and the effort would thus need to be increased by up to tenfold over the current level). Even then, the resulting products may not meet the markets’ demands (e.g. too costly or too large for canning).

The current share of catches, mix of fisheries, status of stocks, and structure of industries and market, in short, the current landscape of the industry in all its complexity has been formed through the balance of all these bio- and socio-economic conditions and factors.
There is no doubt that a slight change in one segment can alter the balance substantially. For example, as seen recently, an increase in fuel prices had a major effect on fishing grounds, target species, relative profitability among fisheries and product types and, in the end, the retail price of various products.

Understanding the entire tuna industry is critically important for proper management.
Also, it is now time to solve the allocation problem (including all types of allocations such as allocation of TAC among countries, products and fisheries), and to approach it through established principles rather than leaving it up to ad hoc balancing of bio- and socio-economic factors.

Although this report has covered many aspects of the economic and social importance of tuna fisheries, it could not go into detail on the relative importance of the industry to the many different states involved in it. This kind of research would need not only to examine the states’ economic characteristics but also their sociological characteristics including culture and eating habits. This important aspect of the allocation issue remains a rich and essential field of research for the future.

See where I'm coming from?
This is not gonna be fixed tomorrow - but having said this, there is progress!
And to the doomsayers among you: do not forget this!

It is not too late - not for the Tuna and not for the Sharks!

PS I love sparring with Patric!
His visual representation illustrates perfectly the exact opposite of where I'm coming from, ie local as opposed to global extinctions. In fact, the Northern Bluefin is already extinct in the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. But contrary to those enclosed bodies, the Atlantic is a mighty big piece of real estate. Tuna will become commercially extinct long, long before we will manage to wipe out the last stocks - especially if those subsidies get cut (and they will!) and the fight against IUU gets traction.
Again, the track record is unequivocable!

2 comments: said...

Thanks for this post. Very good overview. I'll keep the link for a future resource!

In case you're interested, here's the link to some recent posts of my own on tuna and the WCPFC RFMO.

Thanks again!

DaShark said...

Thanks Mark!

Very nice blog u got going there - you're obviously somewhere "here" (FSM?) and sure seem to know heaps about the SOPAC Tuna Fisheries.
Would love to compare notes one day!