Pacific Community scientists join Japanese research exploration


Hakuho-maruTwo scientists from the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (FAME) Division, Dr Tim Pickering and Elodie Vourey, will participate in research expedition onboard the University of Tokyo oceanographic research vessel, Hakuho Maru.

During the voyage from Noumea, New Caledonia to Pago Pago in American Samoa, Dr Pickering’s research will focus on South Pacific freshwater eels which migrate between freshwater and saltwater during spawning periods.

One of the objectives of this scientific exploration is to discover the spawning grounds of South Pacific freshwater eels and to obtain genetic samples of eel larvae in an effort to better understand the genetic relationships and evolution of eels.

Knowledge of breeding and life cycles is fundamental to science-based fisheries management but to date, there has not been any systematic research done on South Pacific eels.

“SPC has been participating in a South Pacific eels research network of international experts and recently hosted the third meeting of this network in collaboration with the University of the South Pacific.  Our involvement in this network and our facilitation of Pacific students to study in Japan on eel topics led to an invitation to join some prominent eel experts to participate in this research,” Dr Pickering said.

“The South Pacific is the last frontier of freshwater eel research. SPC member governments and administrations need scientific information or capacity to make policies for conservation and management of eels, so international collaboration is necessary,” he added.

While the main focus of the scientific exploration is to acquire more knowledge on eel spawning grounds, the nets used to collect the eel larvae at sea also gather other species of fish, squid and crustaceans.

Ms. Vourey will board the Hakuho Maru on the third leg of the voyage between Pago Pago and Papeete (French Polynesia) to work on micronekton (small organisms such as fish, squid, crustaceans and gelatinous organisms) that are consumed by tuna.

“SPC’s Oceanic Fisheries Programme took this opportunity to collect micronekton across the Pacific to acquire knowledge on the spatial distribution and species composition of the tuna forage. By increasing our understanding of the tuna forage, we are in a better position to forecast the tuna movements which are in permanent quest for food,” Ms. Vourey said.

“This is the second Japanese research cruise we are involved in, the previous one being in 2013, and by collecting micronekton in the region on a regular basis it gives us a tool to monitor the changes occurring in the ecosystem and to understand the impact of those changes on the tuna resource,” she said.

A crew from Japan’s largest broadcasting organization, NHK, will also cover the voyage.

The Hakuho Maru departs Noumea on 4 August and will make stops in Pago Pago on 17 August and Papeete on 12 September, before returning to Japan in early October.

Media contact:
Jean-Noel Royer SPC Communications Officer, [email protected] or + 687 877063