MANILA, PHILIPPINES (GMA News) - Various international environmental groups on Wednesday called on Pacific governments to ban certain fishing methods to conserve the population of tuna, sharks, turtles, and other endangered species that end up in the fishing nets of commercial fishers.
With the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in Guam this week, Greenpeace has demanded governments vote to ban the setting of tuna purse-seine fishing nets on whales and whale sharks.
“It’s astounding that fishing fleets continue to use whales and whale sharks as live lures to catch tuna,” said Greenpeace Australia Pacific Oceans campaign team leader Lagi Toribau.
“Tuna gather under whales and whale sharks for shelter, so vessels are setting their vast nets around them and simply scooping the whole lot up. Most of these beautiful creatures are dead when they get tossed back into the ocean.”
Critical problems facing threatened, endangered species
Meanwhile, The Worldwide Fund for Nature-International said that "bycatch," or the incidental catch of untargeted species in fishing lines, is one of the most critical problems facing many threatened or endangered marine turtle species in the region today. This is particularly acute in the Pacific, where most of the world's tuna crop is harvested.
“Thousands of marine turtles die every year because they are accidentally hooked by tuna fishing vessels, including those that use longlines,” said Keith Symington, WWF Coral Triangle Bycatch Strategy Leader.
“There are many proven solutions to this widely recognized problem. However, these solutions have not been implemented at anywhere near an appropriate level or scale,” added Symington.
WWF urged the WCPFC to mandate longline vessels to use large circle hooks—fishing hooks with a unique design that have been scientifically proven to reduce both capture and lethal hooking rates on marine turtles by as much as 80 per cent, compared with traditional longline hooks, without compromising fishing efficiency.
Finding a win-win situation
Studies have found circle hooks in the majority of cases may improve the catch rate of tuna. With their proven tendency to hook fish in the mouth rather than deep inside the tuna’s digestive tract, tuna harvested are said to be in better condition for high-quality products such as sashimi, the WWF said.
“We see the transition to circle hooks as a win-win for all concerned. It makes perfect sense for us to implement their use in our source fisheries, which is why we are working with WWF in the region to progressively introduce them to fishing communities,” said Mr. Steve Fisher, Sea Delight LLC Sustainability Project Coordinator.
Greenpeace, on the other hand, has proposed to the WCPFC to ban wasteful Fish Aggregating Devices and reduce the bigeye tuna catch by half. This method is responsible for bycatches of bigeye tuna, which is under a conservation management, in the Pacific.
In Western and Central Pacific fisheries in 2009, the Australian Government estimated that 1,195 whales and dolphins - and 56 endangered whale sharks - died as a result of reckless tuna fishing, Greenpeace said.
To put this in perspective, according to the Japanese Fisheries Agency, 266 whales were killed as result of the 2011-12 Antarctic whaling season. At the last round of WCPFC talks in 2010, Japan, Taiwan and other Asian fishing powers blocked the proposal to ban setting on whales and whale sharks.
Meanwhile, the Philippine government has appealed to the WCPFC to allow its tuna fishing vessels in pocket 1 of the Pacific high seas.
Decline in Philippine tuna industry
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources chief Asis Perez said the closure of the Pacific high seas led to a significant decline in the country's tuna industry, a major growth driver in Mindanao. Tuna is also one of the Philippines' top agricultural export.
The WCPC imposed the ban on tuna fishing in the high seas in 2010 to allow the bluefin tuna, an endangered species, to spawn unhampered in the eastern high seas. The closure expired on December 2011. However, the island-nations in the Pacific said they favor the extension of the ban.
Perez noted that the findings of the WCPFC scientific committee did not conclusively show that the ban helped to increase the population of the bigeye tuna in the Pacific waters.
Under the Philippines' proposal, only 36 fishing vessles will enter the Pacific high seas. He added that the Philippines is willing to make modifications in its tuna practices in exchange for access to the rich fishing grounds. This includes adjusting the depth of its nest to avoid catching the big eye tuna, a species under threat from overfishing.
PHL: World's 3rd biggest supplier of canned tuna
In 2010, the Philippines' tuna exports was valued at $359.4 million. Canned tuna exports in 2010 dropped by 8 percent compared to 2009 figures, the Department of Agriculture said. Most of the tuna in the country are processed in Mindanao.
The Philippines is the second largest canned tuna producer in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) following Thailand, and is the third biggest supplier of canned tuna .
The WCPO is the world’s largest tuna fishery, where roughly 60% of the world’s tuna supplies come from. Valuable bigeye tuna is now overfished and yellowfin, skipjack and albacore tunas are all in decline.
The Philippines' position was opposed by Greenpeace. The environmental group warned that the Philippines stands to lose lucrative tuna markets if it fails to follow sustainable tuna fishing practices.
The group, in a study, said consumers in the Philippines' export markets have become more concerned of where their food comes from.
Global demand for sustainable practices
“Many of the major global markets for tuna, such as the UK and Canada, are now demanding fish caught using sustainable means. They fully realize that the current rate of fishing cannot continue,” said Mark Dia, Greenpeace Southeast Asia oceans campaigner.
“The Philippines has to ensure that it is recognized as a certified source, otherwise the country risks losing out to other players.”
“It is time that the Philippines realize that their efforts to open the High Seas Pockets to FAD fishing will be detrimental in the longer term. We need to take conservation measures now both domestically and internationally in order to ensure fish for the future” Dia added.
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Updated 1150 days ago Article ID# 1523246