OPRT Business Plan for Fiscal 2021
Current status of tuna stock and tuna fishing and the challenges of Organization for the Promotion of responsible Tuna Fisheries (OPRT)
1. In 2020, the worldwide spread of COVID-19 profoundly affected the distant water tuna fishing industry and the tuna conservation and management activities of the regional tuna fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). Most of the scheduled RFMO meetings had to be held online, and essentially all prevailing measures have been continued without the introduction of any new management measures. With respect to the status of tuna stocks related to the OPRT registered large-scale tuna long-liners, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) decided at its 2020 regular meeting to keep the total allowable catch (TAC) of East Atlantic Ocean bluefin tuna at 36,000t for 2021 through 2022, in accordance with the SCRS advise , noting they continued to be on a recovery trend. It was agreed, however, that the TAC for 2022 would be subject to a review at the 2021 regular meeting.
The Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) decided to maintain the SBT TAC at 17,647 for the 2021? 2023 period, the same level for the previous period 2018-2020, noting they are also on a recovery trend.
However, it should be noted that the pending issue of the introduction of stereoscopic video cameras in gates of the farming cages –as committed by Australia a number of years ago for the purpose to improve the precision of the data including that on the quantities of SBT provided for farming in that country– has not yet been resolved.
As noted in the foregoing, the stocks both of Atlantic bluefin tuna and the SBT are on a recovery trend. But there is need to continue to watch attentively so that the stated goals can be fulfilled through redoubled efforts of the regional tuna fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) in the years ahead.
2. Regarding the stock assessment of bigeye tuna, the major source of sashimi tuna quantitatively, the Scientific Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in 2017 assessed that the bigeye stock had not been overfished and overfishing had not been occurring throughout the previous assessment period, marking a sudden change from the earlier assessment of “overfished and overfishing” for 2014 and subsequent years. The Scientific Committee determinations was made in the face of the continued increase in the catch of juvenile bigeyes over decades by the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) by large-scale purse-seiners. This overly optimistic assessment is by far different from the actual feeling of the front-line longline fishermen and distributors in the Japanese market. It has to be corrected. Notwithstanding the grave concern over the risk of unrecoverable damages being caused to the stock by such an erroneous assessment, lax conservation and management measures were applied between 2018 and 2020 based on the overly optimistic assessment, and the December 2020 Regular Session of the Commission decided to extend the lax conservation and management measures one more year for 2021, following the failure of the August 2020 Scientific Committee meeting to have in-depth discussions on this matter, in part because it was held online.
For the Atlantic bigeye, the 2018 stock assessment determined “overfished and overfishing,” acknowledging advancing deterioration. After a year-long negotiations, the conservation and management measures were updated for the two years 2020 and 2021. However, the agreed TAC reductions were minimal, the modified county allocation was effective for 2020 only, and the pending matters were to be discussed and finalized at the 2020 regular meeting. This did not occur because of COVID-19, and the measures for 2020 have been simply extended into 2021, bringing the efforts toward recovery of bigeye stock in the region to a standstill (even though the decline in stock may not come to a standstill and may worsen). With respect to the Eastern Pacific, the scientific research staff of IATTC recommended that IATTC establish an annual limit for all purse-seine vessels on the total number of floating-object sets, combined with individual-vessel daily limits on active FAD and other floating objects. The background for the staff recommendations includes the recent increases in the use and efficiency of FAD fisheries. The IATTC annual meeting held in late November through early December 2020 discussed the proposed renewal of the conservation and management measures applied for the 2018?2020 period, but the meeting was tangled and no conclusions were reached then. The agreement that was reached finally at the December 22 IATTC Extraordinary Meeting was merely to extend the measures in 2021. An effective and tight control over FAD fisheries is urgently needed.
As for the Indian Ocean, the yellowfin stock was assessed to be “overfished and overfishing” (IOTC Scientific Committee 2015 Report). The Scientific Committee warns that the total catch has been increasing even though some tightening measures were attempted. The Scientific Committee also adopted a recommendation at its December 2019 meeting that its updated stock assessment for bigeye tuna (“not overfished but subject to overfishing”) calls for at least 10% reduction in the total catch from the current level.
In early March 2021, an IOTC special session was held online to discuss yellowfin stock restoration plan and control over FAD fisheries but without any meaningful outcomes. Any concrete agreement would have to wait until the 2021 annual session scheduled for early or mid-June, as in usual years.
This way, the overall stock situation of bigeye and yellowfin, the two major sources of sashimi tuna, is a cause for concern in terms of both quantity and price. We must closely monitor the stock assessment, conservation and management measures of the RFMOs and continue working aggressively so that appropriate measures would be taken toward sustainable use of the fish stocks.
On another matter, the Management Procedure (MP) and the Harvest Control Rules applied to southern bluefin tuna by CCSBT and to skipjack tuna by IOTC and other new catch management methods are going to be employed by WCPFC and ICCAT in the stock management of bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna and others. The world trend tends to give preferential treatment to FADs-based purse-seine fisheries, and we must keep close watch and promote advocacy for an effective framework which would ensure fair treatment among all types of fisheries including longline.
3. Regarding Pacific bluefin tuna, stock restoration measures have been strengthened and implemented by distinguishing juvenile fish (weighing less than 30 kg) from adults (30 kg or heavier). In addition, a study directed toward the introduction of a catch documentation scheme is ongoing. Japan, as the largest consuming country of this stock, is called on to ensure the implementation of the management measures and to monitor import volume of products from this stock. It is crucial to watch the development of the situation with caution.
4. Regarding the issue of overcapacity, OPRT has, since its foundation, restrained the increase in the overall number of large-size longline fishing vessels in cooperation with its Members. We need to continue this effort in the future based on the agreement among its Members at the World Conference of Tuna Longline Fisheries in 2003 toward the goal of realizing sustainable use of tuna resources. At the same time, in order to carry on the effects of OPRT’s efforts over the past years, RFMOs need to implement without delay the effective measures including, as necessary, strengthening of control of large-size purse-seine fishing vessels and monitoring of the activities of small- and medium-size longline fishing vessels.
The issue of OPRT registration of Taiwanese small-size longline fishing vessels that target bigeye tuna for export of the frozen tuna to Japan was discussed between the two governments with the aim of reaching a conclusion in 2016. However, the negotiations have been suspended since then without any outcome. The OPRT registration, when realized, will bring out more stringent management of longline fisheries.
In this connection, Taiwanese authorities announced last year the policy of promoting the use of larger vessels for the improvement of crew’s onboard living environment. This could lead to an enhancement of the fishing capacity, and accordingly, we will monitor any development and take actions, if necessary. In case any overseas longline tuna fisheries organizations express intention to acquire OPRT membership with a view to prevent and eliminate IUU fisheries and control fishing capacity, appropriate steps should be taken to examine the qualifications of such organizations based on the advice of appropriate authorities and related bodies of those countries.
5. The increasing interest of the global society toward elimination of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities, worldwide efforts made by many countries including EU and the U.S., have been more reinforced than ever.
In June 2019, the leaders of the G20 reaffirmed in the Declaration their commitment to end IUU fishing. Preparations for possible introduction of a catch documentation scheme have already begun in Japan, too. As the world’s largest market of sashimi tuna, Japan has a unique responsibility to play in applying tighter monitoring of imported tuna species that are subject to catch controls in order to prevent inflow of products caught by IUU fishing activities.
In order to fulfill its obligation as the country having the largest sashimi tuna market in the world, Japan needs to monitor more rigorously the tunas subjected to catch regulations that are to be imported to Japan and specifically identify fishing vessels engaged in IUU fishing with the aim to bar the IUU catch from entering the Japanese market. Particularly, tuna laundering (including falsified reports on the catch species and fishing ground and misrepresentation of the vessel name) by RFMO-registered fishing vessels diminishes the effectiveness of the resource management measures. In order to secure prompt and accurate process and analysis of data submitted to the Fisheries Agency under its prior confirmation system for frozen tuna import, OPRT will properly carry out the work undertaken. It is necessary to utilize various approaches in a comprehensive manner, including collection of information by utilizing vessel’s unique identifier (the International Maritime Organization (IMO) number), analyses of imported tuna data, and implementation of DNA identification. In addition, the Act on Regulation of Fishery Products Distribution was enacted in December last year and is expected to come into force within two years. The Act provides that the prior confirmation system now in effect should be applied to frozen tuna “to ensure that no tuna caught in violation of the RFMO stock control and management measures should be imported.” With an eye to the implementation of the Act in two years, we will work to increase our understanding of the EU catch documentation scheme and the US Seafood Import Monitoring Program to enhance the accuracy of the conformity check of frozen tuna imported into Japan.
Effective January 2020 at IATTC and April 2020 at WCPFC, small fishing boats (less than 100 ton, 12 m or more in length and authorized to operate outside the EEZ of the flag country) are required to have their IMO numbers registered in addition to larger fishing boats of 100 ton or more registered already. It is hoped that this expansion of the requirement will lead to more accurate understanding of the fishing situation. Relative also to Paragraph 4 above, it is important that quicker feedbacks about the tuna exports from OPRT member country vessels to Japan should be given to the members and other related parties to ensure effective control and management.
In parallel, information exchange and dialogs should be promoted among OPRT members to deepen mutual understandings about international tuna trade and other related matters to help the members implement effective measures for the promotion of responsible tuna fisheries.
6. The Catch Documentation Scheme that is believed to be the most effective enforcement mechanism to keep out tunas caught by IUU fishing vessels from international markets, is now implemented to ensure the traceability of Atlantic bluefin tuna and SBT from the point of capture through markets. ICCAT now requires the use of the Electronic Bluefin Tuna Catch Document (e-BCD) program. We need to watch the implementation of this initiative keeping in mind that the e-BCD will be introduced to cover the bigeye stock and others in future.
In addition, we watch closely developments and implementation for Catch Documentation Scheme for effective traceability on fish products in general, and for electronic reporting and electronic monitoring system for tuna fisheries.
7. Several international environmental organizations are persistently staging their campaigns calling for protection of not only tuna but also marine species caught incidentally in tuna fisheries (sea birds, sea turtle and sharks). Under these circumstances, it is necessary to continue collection of information in collaboration with other parties promoting sustainable use of marine resources.
Operators of longline tuna fisheries who promote responsible fishing should continue to abide by the pertinent measures to this effect and make necessary public relations efforts to earn wider understanding from the general public.
8. In Japan, fish consumption tends to decrease amid intensifying competition between seafood and other food commodities. Under this circumstance, greater efforts than ever should be made to publicize the “promotion of sustainable utilization of tunas caught under appropriate stock management scheme” — which is one of OPRT’s stated missions. Such efforts should include expanding opportunities to appeal to consumers the positive characteristics of sashimi tuna (Not only in terms of sustainable use of resources, but also as ingredients with excellent freshness and quality) produced by large-scale tuna longline fishing vessels.
9. The FOC vessel scrapping project was implemented financed by the Japanese government on condition that the fund used for the project shall be paid-off. Then, FOC project fee has been levied from the duly registered vessels of Japan, Taiwan and legitimized vessels of Vanuatu and Seychelles. The collection of the fee will continue in the same framework from 2020 business year on until full pay-off is made. Collected fees will be paid to the Overseas Fishery Cooperation Foundation.
Taking the above situation into consideration, OPRT will carry out the following activities, with a view to reinforce conservation and management of tuna resources and contribute to the sustainable development of tuna fisheries and stable supply of tunas to the markets. OPRT is committed to steadily implement all the projects during this year to further promote responsible tuna fisheries.
Measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 are expected to be needed for at least several months into the new fiscal year. We will continue to work by tele-commuting, organize OPRT meetings and seminars online, and otherwise explore and adopt best available tools and methods of carrying out the business.
The planned research, meetings, events, and other activities described below may have to be cancelled or switched from in-person to online due to COVID-19. We will respond as appropriate.
(1) Monitor and analyze the state of tuna resources and the trend of international stock management
-Monitor the stock trend and management by RFMOs;
-Monitor the trend of extreme conservation campaign against tuna fisheries
(2) Promote effective resources management
i. Prevent and eliminate IUU fishing activities;
-Monitor production of tunas imported to Japan
-Monitor Positive Lists of RFMOs
-Conduct work related to the prior confirmation system for tuna import
-Implement DNA inspection
ii. Promote fishing capacity control;
iii. Management of OPRT-registered fishing vessels (including maintenance and management of the registered vessel list and its system modification);
iv. Monitor the international transactions of second-hand tuna longline fishing vessels; research on the status of exported second-hand vessels; and
v. Take steps to reduce the species subject to incidental catch; collect information
-Implement measures to mitigate incidental catch of seabirds, sea turtle and sharks
(3) Promote responsible tuna fisheries through promotion of sustainable use of tuna resources
– Implement campaigns for sashimi tunas, with a focus on “October 10 Tuna Day”.
-Support and enliven the events related to the tuna campaign
-Take part in seafood shows
(4) Research and studies on management, trade and market of tuna resources
-Monitor distribution of tunas imported to Japan’s sashimi market
-Survey international distribution of tunas
(5) Promote international exchanges and cooperation among fishers, and with others, to contribute to the promotion of conservation and management of tuna resources, including;
-Conduct meetings for exchange of views and information
-Provide related information and views.
(6) Promote and educate on the concept of responsible tuna fisheries
i. Produce and distribute OPRT pamphlets
ii. Publish OPRT Newsletters
iii. Provide information to the public through OPRT website
iv. Conduct OPRT seminars
v. Solicit new OPRT Supporting Members
vi. Promote activities through cooperation with friendly organizations
(7) Manage the fund for FOC vessel scrapping project
-Smooth collection of payment
-Payment of collected money (to the Overseas Fishery Cooperation Foundation)