In October 1977 the first SPC tagging cruise commenced. Over the next three years the programme tagged 160,276 fish in all – far beyond the original projections of 100,000 – and visited the waters of every SPC member country, even Pitcairn.
The very first regional SPC tagging cruise was undertaken as part of the ‘Skipjack Survey and Assessment Project’ in the Papua New Guinea (PNG) waters, 45 years ago. The boat commenced fishing on October 6th 1977, and in the first week only managed to tag 11 fish. It was a most inauspicious beginning and totally unexpected, given that for the on board SPC staff, these were very well-known waters in which they had already locally tagged thousands of fish. However, by the time the boat left PNG waters some 3 weeks later a total of 918 fish had been tagged. The boat then crossed over into the waters of the Solomon Islands on October 25th 1977, and in just two days fishing tagged 268 fish. The boat continued to fish in Solomon Islands waters until December 4th and tagged 2,631 fish in all during that period.
Since then, SPC has continued to conduct multiple region-wide tuna tagging projects to collect critical information for the assessment of these important resources. This has been supported by funding from multiple sources, including the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) as well as its members including Korea, Papua New Guinea’s National Fisheries Authority, European Union, Chinese Taipei, Australia, France and New Zealand.
The information gained through the long-term tuna tagging programmes in the Western and Central Pacific forms a key input into the region’s assessments of tuna stocks. Tagging consists of catching live tunas and deploying conventional (plastic dart tags inserted into the dorsal muscle) or electronic tags (surgically implanted into the body cavity) before releasing them back into the wild. When fishermen find a tagged tuna, information on that recovery is forwarded to SPC. The specific objectives of this research are to obtain information on the growth, movements, natural mortality and fishing mortality of the tuna, information which is required to estimate the status of the stocks and impacts of fishing.