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Global study of non-industrial tuna fisheries

Robert Gillett
Gillett, Preston and Associates Incorporated
P.O. Box 3344
Lami, Fiji


FAO is implementing a project on the management of world tuna fishing capacity. As part of this project, a study was undertaken of non-industrial tuna fisheries to describe these fisheries and their relative importance.

Although fishing-capacity specialists generally believe that it would be impractical to estimate the fishing capacity for the multitude of types of non-industrial tuna fishing, it is necessary to know at least the magnitude of non-industrial tuna catches in order to evaluate how important the lack of estimates of the non-industrial capacity would be to the success of the overall capacity study.

This study is concerned exclusively with the "principal market species of tunas": skipjack tuna, yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, albacore, Atlantic bluefin tuna, Pacific bluefin tuna and southern bluefin tuna.

The categories of fishing used in this report are: (1) industrial-scale (mechanized purse seining, conventional-freezer longlining and most pole-and-line fishing); (2) small-scale (all handlining, rod-and-reel fishing, sportfishing, all kinds of tuna fishing from vessels that are undecked, unpowered or use outboard engines or sails and most "unclassified surface gear"); (3) medium-scale (operations that fall between the definitions of industrial- and small-scale given above).

Estimates of the catches of tuna by non-industrial fishing were made in 148 countries, and a closer examination was undertaken of tuna fishing in the Philippines and Indonesia.

The results of this study show that the amount of tuna caught in the world by small-scale fisheries is about 320 200 tonnes, or about 8 percent of the global tuna catch. It was not possible to make a similar compilation for the medium-scale tuna fisheries. In most regions, the readily available information did not permit certain gear types to be assigned to industrial and non-industrial components.

With the benefit of hindsight, it appears that the best option for a "clear division of scales" in the future would be to use the following scheme: (1) small-scale (handlining, rod-and-reel fishing, sportfishing, and all kinds of tuna fishing from vessels, usually less than 12 m long, that are undecked and unpowered, or using outboard engines or sails; (2) medium-scale (fishing from decked vessels, usually between 12 and 24 m long, without mechanical freezing capability); (3) large-scale (fishing from vessels, usually more than 24 m long, that have mechanical freezing capability).

The accuracy of the information in this report could be greatly improved by scrutiny by specialists with knowledge of national tuna fisheries. It is especially important for those experts to resolve the uncertainty associated with whether certain fleets should be assigned to medium-scale or to industrial-scale fisheries.

1. Introduction

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is implementing a project on the management of tuna-fishing capacity. The main objectives of the project are to identify, consider and resolve technical problems associated with the management of tuna fishing capacity on a global scale, taking into account conservation and socio-economic issues.

The project's first Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) met in April 2003. The TAC discussed a variety of items concerning the project, including issues related to non-industrial tuna fisheries. The Committee noted that it would be useful to have descriptions of these fisheries, with information on their relative importance. The present review has been commissioned to deal with this need.

2. Background

Work on the review of non-industrial tuna fishing began in mid-October 2003. Contact was made with authorities on fishing capacity, tuna fishery specialists, staff of tuna management bodies, other consultants to the FAO project, and FAO staff members. A strategy for the work on non-industrial fisheries was formulated, initial requests for information were sent, and arrangements for travel were made in accordance with suggestions received. From 6 November to 15 December 2003, travel was undertaken, which included visits to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, the FAO Sub-Regional Office for the Caribbean, FAO headquarters, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, and various offices in the Philippines and Indonesia. Ninety individuals were contacted, either through personal meetings or correspondence. The interviews were structured so as to obtain an understanding of the non-industrial tuna fisheries, available quantitative data and relevant documentation. Certain patterns emerged from the discussions and literature that were useful in establishing appropriate definitions and classifications for the non-industrial fisheries.

From 17 December 2003 to 15 January 2004, the information obtained during the travel was used to make estimates of the catches of tunas by non-industrial fishing in 148 countries.[31] Also, a closer examination of tuna fishing in the Philippines and Indonesia was carried out.

This review, and the larger FAO project on tuna-fishing capacity, are concerned exclusively with the "principal market species of tuna", skipjack tuna, yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, albacore, Atlantic bluefin tuna, Pacific bluefin tuna and southern bluefin tuna. Unless otherwise specified in this report, the term "tuna" is used to denote these seven species.

3. Why study non-industrial tuna fisheries?

Under FAO auspices, efforts to estimate the global fishing capacity of the large-scale purse-seine and longline fleets are presently underway. Fishing-capacity specialists generally believe that, because of the very large number of fishing operations involved, the great variety of gear types and other factors, it would be impractical, at least at present, to estimate the fishing capacity for non-industrial tuna fishing. It is necessary, however, to estimate the magnitude of non-industrial tuna catches in order to evaluate how important the lack of information on non-industrial capacity estimates would be to the success of the overall capacity study (and any subsequent capacity limitation measures).

In the course of the field work for this study, another important reason for reviewing the catches of small-scale tuna fisheries became apparent. These fisheries are often carried out in isolated locations, are a major component of the diet of the people and the participants frequently are socially disadvantaged. For practical and political reasons, it may be difficult or impossible, or undesirable, to limit capacity in the small-scale tuna fisheries. The quantities of tuna that these "semi-unmanageable" fisheries are able to capture must therefore be taken into consideration in capacity management schemes, at least in areas where small-scale tuna fisheries are relatively important.

4. Terminology

It is important to clarify the "scale" terminology used in this study. Terms such as small-scale, artisanal, semi-industrial, non-industrial, industrial, and large-scale are often used rather loosely. This may lead to confusion and problems with consistency, especially in situations involving many countries, regions, gear types and languages.

4.1 Observations made during the review work

During the data-gathering phase of this review several observations were made on the use of these terms in the countries covered. There are many schemes used to delineate the lower end of the fishing spectrum ("small-scale", "artisanal" or other terms). These include:

Certain features concerning delineating scales of fishing emerged during this study. Although small-scale tuna fishing is often delineated in legislation by length or tonnage of vessel, the readily-available national statistics and anecdotal information on tuna tend to be categorized by gear type. When statistics from regional management bodies include small-scale tuna fishing, this is often by gear type rather than by size or capacity of vessel. Also, because the definitions of small-scale fishing in many countries are embedded in legislation, efforts to standardize what constitutes small-scale fishing across countries may have limited success, or at least take a very long time.

4.2 Some considerations on defining small-scale and artisanal tuna fishing

There have been numerous attempts at defining small-scale and artisanal fisheries. Typical is that of FAO's World Fisheries and Aquaculture Atlas, which defines "artisanal fisheries" as:

Traditional fisheries involving fishing households (as opposed to commercial companies), using relatively small amounts of capital and energy, relatively small fishing vessels (if any), making short fishing trips, close to shore, mainly for local consumption. In practice, the definition varies between countries, e.g. from gleaning or a one-man canoe in poor developing countries, to more than 20 m trawlers, seiners, or longliners in developed ones. Artisanal fisheries can be subsistence or commercial fisheries, providing for local consumption or export. Sometimes referred to as small-scale fisheries.

Although this definition (and numerous others) reflects the reality of the situation, it is not especially helpful in separating out the small-scale component of the world's tuna fisheries. In other words, it does not provide guidance in "making clear definitions of the scale of artisanal, small-scale and large-scale components of various fleets", as recommended by the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC).

Specifically with respect to tuna fisheries, the report of the first TAC meeting (FAO, 2003) has suggested that small-scale tuna fisheries are equivalent to "tuna fisheries producing for local markets". It should, however, be noted that some of the most important small-scale tuna fisheries (in terms of numbers of fishers, quantity of catch and lack of data) are oriented to export markets (e.g. handlining in Indonesia and the Philippines).

The difficulty of defining small-scale fishing is not new, nor is it unique to tuna fisheries. The report of the FAO Technical Consultation on the Measurement of Tuna Fishing Capacity (FAO, 2000) states that "the group also noted that the definitions of artisanal, subsistence, and small-scale were unclear and recommended that consistent definitions be provided by FAO". On the other hand, there appears to have been some recent evolution in thinking concerning the concept of a definition. FAO's Working Party on Small-Scale Fisheries of the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research indicated that "it would be inappropriate to formulate a universally-applicable definition for a sector as dynamic and diverse as small-scale fisheries" (FAO 2004).

The definition issue can be approached from a different perspective. Rather than attempting to formulate a clever definition of small-scale or artisanal tuna fishing and then apply it globally to tuna fisheries, it may be more appropriate to establish a boundary for information to be collected by this study in accordance with objectives of the FAO tuna fishing capacity work. That is, the boundary should be established in view of the aim of determining the level of catches of all tuna fisheries for which capacity estimation is not possible.

4.3 Some practical considerations

Ideally, this global study should estimate catches from all tuna fisheries of a scale smaller than the industrial longline, purse-seine and pole-and-line fisheries for which fishing capacity estimates are presently being made. In the course of the field work for this review, certain realities became apparent:

4.4 Categories of scale used in this report

In order to make catch estimates, some form of working definition of small-scale tuna fishing was required in order to communicate with individuals and organizations in position to supply catch information. In the course of the study, there was a growing realization that, rather than define small-scale or artisanal tuna fishing in terms of what it is, it is more practical to define it in terms of what it is not.

In establishing what is not included in small-scale tuna fishing, there were some important considerations, such as using established categories of vessel or gear (in databases, as well as in reports and in the minds of individuals supplying anecdotal information), the need to reduce complexity to allow completion of over 100 national catch estimates in a few weeks, and the desire to estimate the catches of fleets of a scale smaller than that for which fishing capacity estimates are being made.

In balancing these various considerations, it was decided that small-scale tuna fishing should exclude mechanized purse seining, conventional freezer longlining, distant-water fishing and (unless information was available to suggest a small-scale character) pole-and-line fishing.

This working definition of small-scale tuna fishing and the practicalities of collecting data resulted in the following categories for this review:

1. Small-scale: includes all handlining, rod-and-reel fishing, sportfishing, and all kinds of tuna fishing from vessels which are undecked, unpowered, or use outboard engines or sails. "Unclassified surface gear" is also included, unless there is some reason not to do so. Regardless of how vague or incomplete the data, an attempt is made to estimate the catches in this category for each country, using the best readily available information.

2. A second category that includes:

(a) Operations of a larger scale that fall between the definitions of industrial and small-scale given above. In practice, this consists mainly of relatively small mechanized longliners (mainly ice boats), relatively large mechanized gillnetters and the extensive trapping operations.

(b) Groups of vessels that have a considerable size range, so that it is difficult or impossible to isolate the non-industrial components.

For convenience, this second category is called simply "medium-scale", although it is acknowledged that it includes some components of an undetermined scale. In many cases, the information in this category is unclear, incomplete or inconclusive. In this short review, no attempt is made to resolve these data difficulties; rather, summary data are simply presented for use as appropriate. As the information is sometimes vague, no attempts were made to estimate the total catches in this category for many countries.

4.5 Summary of scale terminology

Industrial: The term is considered to be equivalent to "large-scale", and includes mechanized purse seining, conventional freezer longlining, pole-and-line fishing using inboard-powered decked vessels and all forms of distant-water tuna fishing.

Non-industrial: The term is considered roughly equivalent to both "small-scale" and "artisanal", and includes the small-scale fisheries and medium-scale fisheries.

As statistics and individual perceptions are often oriented to gear types, rather than vessel length (Section 4.1 above), it was thought that defining scale by gear would therefore be more suitable to the needs of the present study. The appropriateness of this assumption, and others in the above terminology scheme, are re-visited in Section 7.

5. Sources of information

Several sources of information were used in this study to make country estimates of non-industrial tuna catches. National, regional and global databases covering tuna provided much of the information. These included:

An important source of information was individuals working at regional fishery organizations, such as tuna management bodies, fisheries projects covering large areas, and FAO regional or sub-regional offices. For countries for which statistics are not available, these individuals, with their broad knowledge of tuna fisheries, in particular regions, were invaluable at providing estimates of tuna catches, or at least educated guesses as to catch magnitudes.

Other information to estimate national catches came from published and unpublished national reports (Section 10 of this report), regional tuna conference proceedings, internet searches, FAO fishery country profiles and correspondence with national authorities.

Indonesia and the Philippines have very important small-scale tuna fisheries, and yet there is considerable uncertainty as to the level of catches. Special attention, including dedicated visits, was therefore focused on those two countries to obtain catch estimates. Background information on the sources of the estimates is given in Appendixes 8 and 9.

[31] More precisely, these are country/ocean entities, as for example, Canada with its two coasts is considered as two entities in this report. Overseas territories are considered as separate entities from the governing metropolitan country.

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