Majuro, Marshall Islands 14 November 2015: The PNA plan to implement a Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) for the longline fishing industry in the western and central Pacific received a boost recently with the agreement of Papua New Guinea and Tokelau to join the five PNA nations that had triggered launch of the plan at the end of last year.

   This brings six of eight Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) members and Tokelau into the new management scheme that aims to manage a largely out-of-control segment of the multi-billion dollar tuna fishery in the region.

   “I’m delighted with the number of parties that have signed up for the longline VDS,” said PNA CEO Dr. Transform Aqorau. “It is a reflection of the importance of the VDS as a management tool.”

   Implementing a VDS for the longline industry is a challenge but long overdue, he said. It will benefit from PNA’s effective use of the VDS for managing the purse seine skipjack fishery, which has seen revenues jump from US$60 million to US$350 million in five years, 100 percent fishery observer coverage of fishing vessels, production of quality catch data, and in-port transshipment of tuna.

   In contrast, the approximately 3,000 longliners have less than five percent observer coverage, revenue to island nations has remained flat for 15 years, there is low reporting of tuna catch data, and high seas transshipment of tuna is the norm, which limits availability of catch data, he said. PNA sees enforcement of a longline VDS as the means to reform the industry so that it is sustainable and profitable for all participants for the long-term.

   “Flag state-based limits have not worked and should be replaced with zone-based limits,” said Dr. Aqorau. “Flag-based limits continue to be abused.”

   Dr. Aqorau said it is going to take time to implement the VDS. But initial steps are already underway, with the first workshop for fisheries managers and industry held in Guam in August and a follow up workshop held in Majuro this past week focused on engaging industry with PNA’s fisheries information management system that is a key aspect of VDS management. The workshops are “putting everyone on notice that we are moving to electronic reporting, electronic vessel registration and monitoring of fishing days,” said Dr. Aqorau. “It’s a process. Like with the purse seine VDS, it took a few years to get the management system in place. As we move forward, the longline VDS will be a way to improve collection of catch data from both vessels and observers.”

   Several distant water fishing nations have to date refused to divulge operational catch data as required by their membership in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, a problem that rose to a flashpoint last year, with island nations demanding that these fishing nations live up to their obligations to provide operational catch data. The data is essential for improving the quality of the stock assessments that scientists and fisheries experts associated with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) produce annually. The current practice by most longliners of transshipping tuna on the high seas coupled with limited fisheries observer coverage is a key barrier to transparency in longline catch data reporting.

   Dr. Aqorau described the longline VDS plan as both a huge challenge to implement and a big opportunity for coastal states. “We’ve reached a level of maturity with the purse seine VDS that offers valuable experience for this next challenge,” he said.

“Longliners are a much more difficult fishery to manage and we’re taking it on.”

   Dr. Aqorau made the point that the longline industry is currently at the point where purse seiners were 20 years ago — largely unmanaged and fishing unsustainably with woefully low revenue returns to the islands.

   “The heart of the issue is maximizing sustainable benefits,” said Dr. Aqorau. “We’ve shown how to do it with the VDS.”

   PNG and Tokelau join the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, and Solomon Islands in the initial rollout of the new VDS for longliners. Dr. Aqorau said he anticipates that PNA members Kiribati and Tuvalu will join in the VDS longline plan in the future because it offers many advantages to all the islands that participate in the management scheme.