The western and central Pacific tuna fishery is the world's biggest tuna fishery, worth USD 5.5 billion in 2011.However, urgent conservation efforts are required if Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) are to enjoy the benefits of this valuable renewable resource in years to come, says Mr Mike Batty, Director of SPC's Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems (FAME) Division.
Mr Batty made the comments at the annual meeting of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's governing body held in Noumea last week, where the region's valuable oceanic tuna fishery was one of the many topics of discussion.
'We must not over-exploit our tuna resource, as has happened elsewhere. Bigeye tuna is currently subject to overfishing and other stocks are at historically low levels,' he told regional delegates.
SPC's Oceanic Fisheries Programme provides island countries and territories with scientific information, derived from region-wide stock assessments, bio-economic modeling, improved data collection and biological research. This information supports improved management and decision making on the tuna resource.
In addition, the programme focuses on building regional and national capacity in monitoring services to support the management of oceanic fisheries. This includes training fisheries observers, who work onboard fishing vessels to collect data on fishing operations and monitor compliance with management measures.
Fiji's Roving Ambassador, H.E. Litia Mawi, echoed Mr Batty's sentiments at the meeting, saying that the 'effective conservation of our oceanic resources is part of maximising benefits from them in the long run'.
Mr Batty also raised concern about the amount of by-catch and non-target species such as oceanic sharks and whale sharks that are caught along with the tuna. 'There is a substantial decline in populations of oceanic sharks, whilst discarding edible species is seen as wasteful and potentially damaging to resources,' he says.
The discussions also raised the importance of coastal fisheries for food security and rural livelihoods.
'There is a widening gap between resources and the needs of growing populations, and there is limited information on coastal fisheries; it is a poor relation compared to oceanic fisheries, and gets less attention and regulation,' said Mr Batty.
To address this, SPC's Coastal Fisheries Programme builds regional and national capacity by developing sustainable alternatives based on changes in fishing technology, economic appraisal, export facilitation and support for fishers' associations. It also supports aquaculture development.
'Fiji wishes to acknowledge the remarkable work carried out in aquaculture by FAME to assist members individually and through subregional frameworks such as the Melanesian Spearhead Group in managing resources, particularly inshore fisheries, as this ensures food security,' said Ms Mawi.