The Oceanic Fisheries Programme

The Oceanic Fisheries Programme (OFP) is part of the Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (FAME) Division of SPC, and is the Pacific Community’s regional centre for tuna fisheries research, fishery monitoring, stock assessment and data management. It was established by the 1980 South Pacific Conference (as the Tuna and Billfish Assessment Programme) to continue and expand the work initiated by its predecessor project, the Skipjack Survey and Assessment Programme.

Lack of Access to Data Frustates Scientists

Honiara fishing port in Solomon Islands (Credit: Malo Hosken, Copyright: Secretariat of the Pacific Community)A meeting of over 20 stock assessment scientists from the Asia–Pacific region last week heard that the scientific assessment of tunas in the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) continues to be hampered by some fishing states not making data available to scientists. Dr Shelton Harley, head of the Stock Assessment and Modelling team within the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Oceanic Fisheries Programme noted that ‘the most frustrating aspect is that the data have been collected and are just sitting on computers in countries and not contributing to the efforts to determine the health and safe harvest levels for the largest tuna resource in the world.

Three new staff members to join the stock assessment and modelling (OFP SAM) team in 2014

samLate 2013 saw the departures of Dr Tim Adams to warmer and more humid climes, Dr Simon Hoyle to cooler and less humid climes, and Dr Aaron Berger downstairs to a new post within the OFP analysing tagging data. It also saw approval of the New Zealand Scientific Support project, which provided the team a second national scientist position. So over the past couple of months we have been searching far and wide for people to join the team and we are pleased to announce three new additions to the Stock Assessment and Modelling team.

SPC secures a unique world record – 100,000 tuna tagged by one individual

The tuna tagging experiments conducted by SPC’s Oceanic Fisheries Programme (OFP) are acknowledged to be among the most comprehensive in the world and have recently achieved yet another milestone.

After four decades of involvement in Pacific Island tuna fisheries, Dr Antony Lewis recently achieved the mark of 100,000 tuna tagged by an individual, which is a world record unlikely ever to be surpassed.  The milestone was achieved during a recent tagging cruise in Papua New Guinea (PNG) waters operating under the Pacific Tuna Tagging Project (PTTP) in collaboration with the PNG National Fisheries Authority.  Dr Lewis started tagging tuna in the early 1970s, but it was during the SPC’s Skipjack Survey and Assessment Programme (SSAP) of the late 1970s when the numbers of tagged tuna started to accumulate. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as head of the OFP, Dr Lewis was responsible for the Regional Tuna Tagging Project and was recruited as technical advisor for the more recent PTTP, which started in 2006.

2012 Tuna Fishery Yearbook now available

Yearbook coverThe Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) Tuna Fishery Yearbook, which is produced for the WCPFC by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, presents annual catch estimates in the WCPFC Statistical Area from 1950 to 2012.

The tables of catch statistics cover the main commercial tuna and billfish species caught in the region:albacore (Thunnus alalunga), bigeye (Thunnus obesus), skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis), yellowfin(Thunnus albacares), black marlin (Makaira indica), blue marlin (Makaira nigricans), striped marlin(Tetrapturus audax) and swordfish (Xiphias gladius). The WCFPC, through their member countries, are now obliged to compile estimates of key shark species, some of which are now covered in the longline fleet tables: blue shark (Prionace glauca), silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis), oceanic whitetip shark(Carcharhinus longimanus) and mako sharks (Isurus spp.). Catches of other species are not covered explicitly, and discards are not considered.

Tuna Fishery Yearbook 2012

Conservation forensics help unlock tuna mysteries

otholithTunas are highly mobile fishes that often undertake long-range movements to track food and to reproduce at distant spawning grounds. Information on these movements underpins the effective management of commercially important tuna stocks. In the case of South Pacific albacore (Thunnus alalunga), longstanding questions remain regarding the number and location of spawning areas, the degree of connectivity among larval sources, the migration routes of juveniles and adults and the biophysical factors influencing these processes.

SPC scientists tackle stock assessment for blue sharks in the North Pacific Ocean

sheltonH2014_02_14_thumbSPC stock assessment scientists Shelton Harley and Joel Rice have just returned from a one week blue shark stock assessment workshop in San Diego, California. Here Shelton reports on what makes this assessment a little different to others typically undertaken by SPC.

The assessment for blue sharks in the North Pacific is the third shark stock assessment undertaken by SPC as part of our service agreement to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). Two unique features of this assessment are: 1) that it covers an area outside of the mandate of the WCPFC and therefore requires close collaboration with the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the International Scientific Committee for tuna and tuna-like species (ISC); and 2) the SPC stock assessment is one of two that are to be undertaken for the stock.

A scientific perspective on current challenges for PICT domestic tuna longline fleets that are dependent on south Pacific albacore

grahamP2014_02_12_thumbIn recent years domestic fishing fleets targeting primarily albacore in Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) have reported difficulties in maintaining profitability, and as noted in a PITIA press article, in the last few months many vessels based in Fiji have stopped fishing altogether and are tied up at wharves. The PITIA article notes that despite their experiences on the water, scientific stock assessments “continue to produce relatively healthy results”.

The purpose of this article is to summarise some of the recent scientific analyses of south Pacific albacore. It won’t discuss issues such as the prices of fish or fuel, or the mobility of fleets that enhances or constrains their ability to follow or find fish; clearly these issues would be expected to play a large role in the profitability of individual fleets.

New species of deepwater snapper identified from shape of ear bones

snapperThe ruby snapper has been a prize catch for deepwater snapper fishers throughout the Pacific for many decades. But recently, we discovered that there are actually two species of ruby snapper: the ruby snapper (Etelis carbunculus), and the pygmy ruby snapper (Etelis marshi). We have now developed a reliable technique to distinguish between the two species, based on the shape of their otoliths (ear bones). The results from this research have been published online in the latest issue of Fisheries Research.

Artisanal Tuna Monitoring Workshop #1, 11th-14th November 2013

Increasingly, information on the artisanal tuna fishery is requested and required. The requests come from diverse sources including: the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), which encourages Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) to voluntarily provide data on their artisanal fishery; countries themselves, who require more information on the socio-economic aspects of the fishery; agencies evaluating the effectiveness of FAD programmes and any possible impacts of climate change; as well as fishers themselves, who ask to be better informed about the fishery.

SPC Fisheries Newsletter #141

Overall, tuna catches in the waters surrounding Pacific Island countries (the exclusive economic zones) have increased by 150% since 1990. And, according to data gathered and analysed by SPC’s Oceanic Fisheries Programme, a significant portion of this catch is taken less than 100 nautical miles from the shores of individual countries. At the same time, tuna numbers are estimated to have significantly decreased in the last 30 years, by up to 65% in the case of yellowfin tuna.

While tuna stocks are still considered to be in relatively good shape, or at least, above the level required for a maximum sustainable yield, this decline in stocks might not affect industrial and artisanal fishers the same way. The reduction in stocks is not evenly distributed throughout the Pacific Ocean and some localised depletion may occur, mainly affecting local artisanal fleets that are not capable of chasing tunas over great distances the way that industrial fleets can.


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