OPRT Business Plan for 2022
I Current status of tuna stocks and tuna fishing and the challenges of the OPRT
1. Current standings of tuna RFMOs and their issues this year
2021 was the year that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to calm down, but resurged due to the appearance of the Omicron strain. This forced tuna RFMOs to hold almost all the meetings in a virtual manner. Different from 2020, ICCAT and IATTC managed to agree to new conservation measures under such condition. It is difficult at this point to predict whether RFMO meetings this year will continue to be held in a web style or face-to-face meetings will be resumed at a certain point. If the pandemic continues to go down, physical meetings may be held in September.
There is still a grave concern about the negative effects of a large amount of juvenile bigeye catch by purse seine FAD operations on long line fishing operations. Reduction in the juvenile bigeye catch will increase the MSY level, which would enable the increase in TAC, benefiting not only long line fisheries but also all the other fisheries. Since the reduction in the juvenile bigeye catch is quite important for improvement of the long line business operation, the OPRT needs to promote it. RFMOs have taken measures such as the limitation on the number of FADs that one purse seiner can deploy at one time and introduction of closure periods. In addition, IATTC adopted last year a new measure that the closure period shall be extended if a purse seiner catches too much bigeye, but to what extent this measure will be effective has yet to become clear and more effective measures such as the limitation on the number of FAD operations should be introduced.
The current status and issues to be discussed this year are explained below for each RFMO.
WCPFC extended its conservation and management measures (CMM) for tropical tunas in the last two years with minor changes. The CMM is likely to be thoroughly reviewed this year if the annual meeting will be an in-person one. WCPFC has been discussing introduction of management procedures for tropical tunas, but there has not been much progress. If WCPFC cannot agree to it this year, the MSC certification could be stopped. Attention should be given to the positions of Pacific island countries and others whose fisheries are currently certified by the MSC on the management procedure. Their positions on target reference point (TRP) and the limit reference point (LRP) will be of particular interest.
Regarding monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) measures, observer coverage and control of transhipment, which are important for OPRT Members, are likely to be discussed. One of the points to be discussed is how to promote electronic monitoring as it is difficult to find human observers. As to management of transhipment, FAO is currently working on establishment of voluntary guidelines on transhipment and the Expert Consultation was held last October. FAO was planning to hold a Technical Consultation on Voluntary Guidelines for Transshipment from March 7 to 11, but rescheduled it from May 30 to June 3. The meeting is supposed to produce draft guidelines, which will be forwarded to COFI 35 in September for finalization. Once these Guidelines are adopted by FAO, they are likely to greatly influence discussion on management of transhipment at RFMOs.
Regarding South Pacific albacore, agreement was reached at the 2021 annual meeting that each Member is encouraged to take steps to implement interim controls on South Pacific albacore catch or effort since the stock was found to be lower than the TRP. This voluntary measure, however, is not expected to recover the stock to the TRP and additional measures are likely to be discussed this year.
There is a concern on the stock status of North Pacific striped marlin, which is likely to lead to discussion on the need to introduce more stringent measures for this species. This species is basically a bycatch species in long line fisheries and consideration should be given to how it should be conserved without causing too much negative impacts on the catch of target species.
As regards the labor standard of crew on fishing vessels, the second workshop, which was originally scheduled to take place in October 2021, was cancelled. There has not been so much progress since then and the future plan is not clear at this point. Given the high level of interest among Members, however, discussion is likely to continue this year.
For Atlantic bluefin tuna, the management strategy evaluation (MSE) process is currently going on. The third meeting on MSE in October is expected to produce a draft management procedure, which will be forwarded to the annual meeting for adoption. Discussion on the management procedure should involve scientists, administrators, stakeholders including industry people. Since the management procedure will establish a TAC for the eastern and western stocks, respectively, those OPRT Members who have interest in these stocks should participate in the discussion.
For tropical species, which are most important for OPRT Members, agreement was reached in 2021 for the 2022 fishing season only and ICCAT is supposed to review conservation and management measures including allocations and MCS measures this year. Negotiation on allocation of bigeye and yellowfin is likely to be very difficult as the claim of developing Members on their rights for fishery development is getting stronger. ICCAT will hold an intersessional meeting to discuss these issues in late June, but it is highly unlikely to see agreement at this meeting, and an additional intersessional meeting may be scheduled.
The measures for South Atlantic albacore, South Atlantic swordfish, North Atlantic swordfish, and North Atlantic blue shark were rolled over for one year at the 2021 annual meeting. It is expected that these measures will be reviewed this year.
ICCAT held a working group meeting in March to launch a discussion on labor standards for crew on board fishing vessels, following WCPFC. The results of the meeting will be a basis for further discussion at the annual meeting.
Discussion on observer coverage is likely to be similar to that of WCPFC. ICCAT will, through the working group, discuss whether the catch documentation scheme (CDS), which is currently dealing with only Atlantic bluefin tuna, should be expanded to other species. While the expansion of the CDS is considered to be an important step towards exclusion of IUU fishing, how to address implementation difficulties is likely to be the focus of the discussion.
As to the bycatch of sea turtles, the United States has been tabling a proposal to mandate the use of circle hooks and fish bait for shallow long line sets, which has not yet led to an ICCAT agreement. Attention should be given to the fact that the United States is now losing patience and trying to resolve this issue bilaterally with a threat of trade measures.
IOTC adopted conservation and management measures for yellowfin last year, and this will be reviewed at the annual meeting. A question arose as to the effectiveness of the measure as several Members lodged objection after the adoption. This indicates that if IOTC adopts something, it should take into account the positions of those opposing the current measure. However, several Members insist that small-scale fisheries in their EEZs should be exempted from the measure and reaching agreement would not be easy. European and North American buyers have expressed their intention to buy no such tuna originating in the Indian Ocean if IOTC cannot agree to appropriate measures. This is a serious issue for those Members relying on export of tunas to these markets.
IOTC will continue discussion on allocation criteria this year and the first meeting was held in March. There is a general agreement that allocation should be transferred from developed Members to developing Members, but the difference of views is huge as to the initial allocation levels and the speed of such transfer. There is little possibility to see agreement in the near future.
IATTC adopted a new conservation measure for tropical tunas for 2022 to 2024 last year after a series of difficult negotiations. The measure will be reviewed every year based on new stock assessments (skipjack in 2022), changes in the total purse seine fishing capacity and scientific advice. Since the new stock assessment will be conducted for skipjack this year, whose stock status is not expected to suddenly become depleted, no amendment is likely to be made on the measure unless there is a big increase in the purse seine capacity.
Although the current TAC and allocations will continue to be effective until the end of 2023, the TAC for 2024 and thereafter will be calculated by the management procedure this year. Thus, the TAC and allocations for 2024 and thereafter will be discussed at the annual meeting this year.
2. Suggested responses of the OPRT to those issues at tuna RFMOs
Taking into account the issues listed above, the OPRT will implement the following activities.
(1) The Secretariat will continue to monitor meetings of tuna RFMOs in 2022 to the extent possible and provide related information to Members (see Attachment for the schedule of major RFMO meetings in 2022).
(2) The Secretariat and Members should pay attention to issue which may affect long line fisheries such as management of FAD operations, management of transhipment, observer coverage (including electronic monitoring), CDS, and labor standards. The Members should, if necessary, communicate their views to their authorities. In particular, the OPRT held the Workshop for Addressing Labor Issues in early March where views and information were exchanged among the Members and agreement was reached to work towards adoption of a resolution at the General Meeting in June. If a resolution is adopted, the OPRT will appeal it as a unified position of the Members to tuna RFMOs. The Secretariat will make necessary preparations for this goal.
(3) As to the bycatch of sea turtles, it would be necessary for the Members to respond to the United States in a unified manner. For this purpose, the Secretariat will consider the possibility of establishing a mechanism to exchange information on the results of the bilateral discussion with the United States. Also, as a movement for requesting further protection of sharks and seabirds is still going on, the OPRT, as its name indicates, will tackle this issue in a positive manner and consider promotion of education through means such as seminars.
(4) A management procedure has been already established through the MSE process for the southern bluefin tuna and North Atlantic albacore stocks and discussion is going on for the Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks. As more discussion is expected towards the expansion of this approach to other species, the Secretariat will consider holding a seminar to deepen the understanding of the Members on this.
3. Suggested responses of the OPRT to other issues(1) Overcapacity
For sustainable utilization of tuna resources, the OPRT, based on the agreement among its Members at the World Conference of Tuna Longline Fisheries in 2003, needs to continue its efforts to control the total number of large-scale long liners. At the same time, in order to carry on the effects of OPRT’s efforts over the past years, discussion should take place among the Members about introduction of more effective measures as necessary.
The OPRT registration of Taiwanese small-size longline fishing vessels that target bigeye tuna for export of the frozen tuna to Japan has been discussed between the two governments. Since the incorporation of such vessels within the OPRT framework is expected to contribute to strengthened control of long line fishing vessels, the OPRT will promote this once agreement is made.
In case that any overseas longline tuna fisheries organizations express intention to acquire OPRT membership with a view to preventing and eliminating IUU fisheries and controlling 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.
(2) Measures against IUU fishing
It is important for the Members to exclude IUU tuna products from the Japanese market as the world’s largest market of sashimi tuna. For this purpose, under Japan’s prior confirmation system for frozen tuna import, the OPRT will properly carry out part of the work including compilation of information submitted and monitoring of tuna import cleared by customs in an expeditious and accurate manner. 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. 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 will be conducted in a comprehensive manner.
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.
(3) Promotion of wild sashimi tuna consumption
Promotion of sustainable utilization of tunas caught under appropriate stock management schemes is one of OPRT’s stated missions. 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 expand 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.
(4) FOC vessel scrapping projectThe FOC vessel scrapping project is that the fund provided by the Japanese government was used to scrap FOC fishing vessels and full repayment of the fund shall be made using fees levied from the duly registered vessels of Japan, Taiwan and legitimized vessels of Vanuatu and Seychelles. The collection of the fees will continue in the same framework this year and repayment will be made to the Overseas Fishery Cooperation Foundation, the current loan provider.
II Business planTaking the above situation into consideration, the OPRT will carry out the following activities, with a view to reinforcing conservation and management of tuna resources and contributing to the sustainable development of tuna fisheries and stable supply of tunas to the markets.
It should be noted that as measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 will be required for at least several months into the new fiscal year, the OPRT will continue to work by telework, 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) Monitoring and analysis of the state of tuna resources and the trend of international stock management
(i) Monitoring, analysis and dissemination of information related to RFMOs
(ii) Monitoring, analysis and dissemination of information related to environmental NGOs
(2) Promotion of effective resources management
(i) Prevention and elimination of IUU fishing activities
-Monitoring of tunas imported to Japan
-Monitoring of Positive Lists of RFMOs
-Implementation of part of work related to the prior confirmation system for tuna import
(ii) Promotion of fishing capacity control
(iii) Management of OPRT-registered fishing vessels (including maintenance and management of the registered vessel list and its system modification)
(iv) Monitoring of the international transactions of second-hand tuna longline fishing vessels and investigation on the status of exported second-hand vessels
(v) Measures to mitigate bycatch and collection of related information
(3) Promotion of responsible tuna fisheries through promotion of sustainable use of tuna resources
(i) Implementation of campaigns for sashimi tunas, with a focus on “October 10 Tuna Day”.
(ii) Support and strengthening of events related to the tuna campaign
(iii) Participation in seafood shows
(4) Research and studies on management, trade and market of tuna resources
(i) Monitoring of distribution of tunas imported to Japan’s sashimi market
(ii) Survey on international distribution of tunas
(5) Promotion of international exchanges and cooperation among fishers for conservation and management of tuna resources
(i) Holding of meeting to exchange views and information on topics such as:
- capacity management
- establishment of clear rules on trade of second-hand tuna long line vessels
- tuna catches made by non OPRT Members
(ii) Provision of related information
(6) Promotion and education of the concept of responsible tuna fisheries
(i) Publication and distribution of OPRT Newsletters
(ii) Provision of information to the public through OPRT website
(iii) Holding of OPRT seminars on topics such as:
(iv) Recruiting new OPRT Supporting Members
(v) Promotion of OPRT activities through cooperation with friendly organizations
(7) Management of the fund for FOC vessel scrapping project
(i) Smooth collection of fees
(ii) Payment to the Overseas Fishery Cooperation Foundation