With the COVID-19 crisis, the Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (FAME) division of the Pacific Community (SPC) had to find new ways to help countries estimate and submit their annual tuna catch data. Data collection is fundamental for tuna stock assessments, which provide the scientific advice to ensure tuna fisheries management decisions in this region are efficient and informed.
Each year, Pacific countries have an obligation to submit the annual catch estimates for their national fleets to the region’s tuna Commission (Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission–WCPFC). SPC supports the process through the organization of an annual Tuna Data Workshop, where countries share their data and prepare their submission to the WCPFC. This year – for the first time – the meeting was virtual.
“We completely redesigned the agenda to reinvent the Tuna Data Workshop as a virtual meeting.” said Andrew Hunt, the SPC Fisheries Division Data Analyst and trainer who led the virtual meeting preparation. “Nine of our staff were involved to keep contact with all the countries. We did several bandwidth and connectivity tests two weeks before the meeting. Our team is tech-savvy, therefore we were able to find different ways to maintain the meeting and country’s engagement” he added.
Almost 75 participants attended the virtual meeting despite the different time zones, technology challenges among the countries, and various levels of lockdowns and curfews.
This regional workshop is also an opportunity to showcase new data tools and systems that have been developed by the FAME team in the last 12 months. For this virtual event, break out rooms in Zoom have been used to hold keynote presentations of these new systems to SPC’s member countries.
The participants were very happy with the way the meeting was held, despite the challenges.
“The presentations and the innovative approaches showcased during the meeting were excellent. Going virtual has worked way better than I initially thought” says Marino Wichman from Cook Islands.
Dr. Lara Manarangi-Trott, WCPFC Compliance Manager, also praised SPC for “a very successful and well-prepared Tuna Data Workshop this year.”
The use of such technologies is not unusual for FAME’s Tuna data collection team. For almost four years, virtual platforms such as Slack have been used to exchange with the member countries as well as partners and colleagues living in remote places.
“The human contact is an important aspect of this job.” says Emmanuel Schneiter, the SPC Fame Regional Fisheries Data Manager. “Over the years, we have developed a good relationship and a good level of trust with the member countries. If we didn’t have these relationships, data collection could have been more challenging - and if we can’t have data, SPC scientists can’t do adequate analyses on the region’s important tuna stocks.”
The latest Tuna stock assessment result (2018 data)
The region’s four key commercial tuna stocks of bigeye, skipjack, South Pacific albacore and yellowfin tuna are assessed to have been managed and maintained at agreed sustainable levels. This accomplishment is not currently matched by any other regional ocean in the world. The healthy status of the West and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) tuna stocks is attributed to the management of the fishery through the WCPFC process and its members, including the key roles played by the Pacific Island member countries and subregional fisheries agencies including the Pacific Community, the Fisheries Forum Agency (FFA) and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA).