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Problems of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and overcapacity of tuna fishing vessels

Miwako Takase
Fisheries Agency of Japan

1-2-1, Kasumigaseki
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, 100-0013, Japan


Until almost 1960, Japanese longliners for tuna expanded all over the world. During the course of the expansion of tuna longline fishery, the Japanese Fisheries Authority had substantially improved fisheries management ability. Since the late 1980s, Taiwan Province of China expanded its longline fishing capacity at a very rapid pace. In cooperation with Japan, the control ability of Taiwan Province of China was strengthened in the mid-1990s. It resulted in Taiwanese fishermen obtaining foreign registry outside the Taiwanese fisheries authority's control. In 1999 the Japanese Government started consultations with both fishing industry and authority of Taiwan Province of China and both sides agreed to set up programmes to scrap old flag of non-compliance - large-scale tuna longline vessels (FNC-LSTLVs) and to put those LSTLVs under strict control.

1. History of the japanese longline fishery for tunas and its management

Longline fishing for tunas was first practiced by Japanese fishers. The fishery gradually expanded to fishing grounds at greater distances from Japan. There were almost no restrictions on fishing until 1962, when the "designated fishery licensing scheme" (DFS) was introduced. Under this management scheme, a limit on total fishing capacity was set for tuna longline-fishing vessels, and within this limit fishing licences were issued to individual vessels.

1.1 The tuna longline fishery prior to the World War II

Historically, tunas were caught with nets by small un-decked, sail-powered fishing vessels. During the 1910s fishers extended their operations to offshore areas and even to the high seas. At that time larger, engine-powered vessels and longline gear were introduced.

As the fishing grounds expanded offshore, new developments, such as further increases in the sizes of the vessels and the invention of the mechanical line-hauler, increased fishing efficiency, which, in turn, served as an incentive to further expansion of the fishing grounds. In 1941 there were 1 107 Japanese longliners, with an average gross registered tonnage of 40 tons, which caught 53 651 tonnes of tunas and billfishes.

It should be noted, however, that during this period the fishery was still confined to the northwestern Pacific Ocean north of the equator.

1.2 Expansion of the longline fishery for tunas after the World War II

Between the end of World War II, in 1945, and 1952, when the Japan-US peace treaty took effect, Japan was obliged to limit its fishing operations to the area within the "MacArthur Line", set by the US occupation forces. Japanese authorities, in order to secure the compliance of Japanese fishers with this regulation, implemented a licensing system for controlling tuna fishing and construction of larger tuna-fishing vessels.

Rapid expansion of fishing grounds for the tuna longline fishery began in 1952 when the Japan-US peace treaty took effect. In response to requests from fishers, the Government of Japan allowed the construction of larger fishing vessels. With the application of the Law on Exceptional Cases, construction of fishing vessels of more than 100 gross tons (GT), conversion of medium-sized fishing vessels to larger ones and conversion from other types of fishing to longline fishing for tunas were approved. In addition, the vessels were made more efficient by improvements in navigation equipment, enlargement of fish storage capacity and improvements of freezing facilities.

Following these developments, the fishing grounds were further extended to the entire Pacific and Indian Oceans (1954) and to the Atlantic Ocean (1957).

During that period most of the tuna catches were exported to the United States for canning or used domestically for the production of fish hams and sausages.

1.3 Use of longline-caught tunas for the production of sashimi

By the 1960s it was apparent that the abundance of tunas had been decreasing, making longline fishing unprofitable. In addition, vessels of the Republic of Korea and Taiwan Province of China entered the fishery in 1965, which exacerbated the problem.

Due to increased prosperity in Japan, the demand for high-quality tuna sashimi was increasing, and this demand was met by Japanese longline vessels with equipment capable of freezing the fish at the extremely low temperatures required for production of raw material suitable for preparation of high-quality sashimi.

Meanwhile, beginning in 1965, Japanese vessels began fishing for southern bluefin tuna in the higher latitudes of the southern hemisphere.

Beginning in the 1970s, however, additional problems, such as (i) increasing fuel prices, (ii) adoption of 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones by most of the nations of the world, (iii) strengthened international and regional fisheries regulations, (iv) variable fish prices and (v) decreased abundance of fish, arose, and Japan was gradually losing its superiority in tuna fisheries.

1.4 Control of fishing effort in the longline fishery for tunas

Control of fishing effort in the longline fishery for tunas began in 1962, when the Government of Japan established the DFS. The DFS was established for the purpose of properly regulating the major fisheries in response to the rapid expansion of offshore and high-seas fisheries after World War II.

Under the DFS, several fishing activities are categorized as "designated fisheries" when the following conditions were met:

There are two distinct categories for the longline fishery, high-seas vessels of 120 GT or more (no area restriction) and offshore vessels less than 120 GT (restricted to the northwestern Pacific Ocean).

The DFS maintains effective control of fishing capacity by controlling both operators and fishing vessels, and periodically renewing the authorizations. All of the authorizations are renewed simultaneously every five years. During this process, limits on the numbers and sizes of fishing vessels that are permitted to fish in each fishing area are imposed, to avoid harmful effects on the propagation and conservation of fishery resources and other matters of public interest, taking into account conditions, such as financial performance, of the fishery in question. The numbers of renewed authorizations are made available through public notice.

Authorizations are made within the limits prescribed in the public notice, if necessary, through prioritization of applications. A licence is issued for each authorization designating one operator (or owner) and one fishing vessel to be used by the permitted operator. An authorization can be transferred to another operator during the authorization period only under certain conditions. Also, a licence can be issued for a new vessel as a replacement for a previously-authorized vessel only if the operator meets certain conditions.

2. Development and expansion of the tuna fisheries of other asian countries

2.1 The Republic of Korea, Taiwan Province of China and Indonesia

During the early 1980s, vessels of the Republic of Korea, the Taiwan Province of China and Indonesia became capable of producing raw material suitable for production of sashimi. Among the reasons for this were the following:

2.2 Expansion of the large-scale tuna longline fishery of Taiwan Province of China, and the history of its fishing capacity controls

Among the newly-rising Asian fishing countries, the Taiwan Province of China expanded its longline fishing capacity at a particularly rapid pace. The authorities of the Taiwan Province of China reacted to that challenge by strengthening their capacity to control the Taiwanese tuna longline fishing vessels. Japan, because it was the principal market for tunas caught by these vessels, actively supported that effort. This, however, led to the reflagging of many of these vessels, and to a substantial increase in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

2.2.1 Expansion of the fishery by large-scale tuna longline fishing vessels of Taiwan Province of China

Previous to the 1980s the majority of the tuna longline fishing vessels of the Taiwan Province of China were relatively small vessels that landed fish destined for the market for fresh tunas. The rest of them (about 100 vessels) were large-scale tuna longline fishing vessels (LSTLVs) that operated on the high seas, targeting albacore destined for canning. However, since the economy of the Taiwan Province of China grew considerably beginning in the late 1980s while that of the Republic of Korea did not, the number of Taiwanese LSTLVs equipped with super-freezers increased to more than 300 by the early 1990s. The Taiwanese vessels operated mainly in the tropical areas of the Indian Ocean, where they targeted yellowfin and bigeye tuna. Large portions of their catches were sold to the Japanese market, which reduced the prices of sashimi-grade tuna in that market.

2.2.2 Initial approach for the improvement of fishing capacity control by Taiwan Province of China

In order to rectify the situation, representatives of the tuna industries of Japan and Taiwan Province of China, with observers from the government authorities of both Japan and Taiwan Province of China, held meetings in 1993 at which an annual export quota of 99 000 tonnes of sashimi-grade tuna to Japan and an export certificate system were adopted. Since Taiwanese LSTLVs producing sashimi-grade tuna did not have any markets other than that of Japan, it had become possible to monitor their total catches of sashimi-grade tuna from the export certificate data.

Subsequently, during the mid 1990s, because of excessive catches in previous years, the catches of Taiwanese LSTLVs in the Indian Ocean decreased, and vessels began to shift their operations to the Atlantic Ocean. In response to the rapid increase of catches of bigeye tuna by Taiwanese LSTLVs in the Atlantic Ocean, in 1997 the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) adopted a limit of 16 500 tonnes per year on the catch of bigeye tuna by vessels of the Taiwan Province of China. In accordance with this catch limitation, Taiwanese authorities allocated quotas to individual Taiwanese LSTLVs, controlling them by implementing the ICCAT statistical documentation scheme (Taiwan Province of China, under the name "Chinese Taipei", had been participating in the work of ICCAT, as an observer, for several years).

2.2.3 Non-compliance of LSTLVs owned by residents of Taiwan Province of China

While the ability of the Taiwan Province of China to control its fleet of LSTLVs had strengthened during the mid 1990s, Taiwanese fishers strongly desired an increase in the numbers of LSTLVs, so they purchased a number of used Japanese LSTLVs that had been replaced by newly-constructed vessels. Since there were no excess licences to be issued by the Taiwan Province of China for those newly-purchased LSTLVs, the new owners registered them in other countries.

From 1993 on, Taiwanese residents purchased and owned large numbers of LSTLVs registered in other countries. Japanese trade statistics show that during the late 1990s the imports of bluefin and bigeye tunas from Latin-American and African countries that did not have large-scale longline fisheries for tunas increased substantially. Examination of these import data revealed that the fish had been caught by LSTLVs that were owned by Taiwanese residents, but registered in other countries.

In 1999 ICCAT granted to the Taiwan Province of China, as "Chinese Taipei", the status of "Cooperating non-Party/Entity/Fishing Entity" in accordance with a resolution adopted by ICCAT in 1997 urging non-parties to either become Contracting Parties or attain status as a "Cooperating non-Party/Entity/Fishing Entity". ICCAT requested that the Taiwan Province of China comply with ICCAT conservation and management measures, including its catch quota. Hence, duly-authorized Taiwanese LSTLVs continued to abide by international conservation and management measures, but vessels owned by residents of the Taiwan Province of China and registered in other countries continued to operate as before. To make the matters worse, these LSTLVs were not subject to the export quota of 99 000 tonnes that was, at that time, allocated to Taiwanese LSTLVs.

3. Actions taken for the legalization of large-scale tuna longline fishing vessels owned by taiwanese residents and registered outside the taiwan province of china

3.1 Detection and identification

LSTLVs owned by Taiwanese residents and registered in other countries were operating not only in the ICCAT area, but also in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Their catches were not reported and not subject to any regulations. However, since almost all of their catches came to the Japanese market, the Government of Japan was able to estimate, from information on its tuna imports collected from importers, transshippers and other relevant business entities, that, as of 2000, there were at least 250 such LSTLVs engaged in IUU fishing all over the world.

3.2 Scrapping and re-registration program

The Government of Japan determined that almost all of the 250 LSTLVs registered in countries that are otherwise not involved in large-scale longline fishing were owned by Taiwanese residents. The Government of Japan reported the results of its investigation to ICCAT and other tuna regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs), and, in addition, in 1999 it initiated consultations with both the fishing industry and government authorities of the Taiwan Province of China.

Two types of such LSTLVs, about 120 used Japanese vessels purchased by Taiwanese residents and about 130 relatively-new vessels constructed in the Taiwan Province of China, were identified during the consultations.

After long and difficult consultations, both sides agreed in 2000 to set up two programs, one to scrap older vessels, which would be mainly the responsibility of the Japanese, and the other to re-register newer vessels to the Taiwan Province of China, which would be mainly the responsibility of the Taiwanese. The two programs resulted in the scrapping of 43 older vessels and re-registration of 47 newer ones. In addition, vessel owners of the Taiwan Province of China sold about 65 older vessels to owners in China and other countries.

3.3 Additional cooperative management schemes

In 2002 there were still about 100 LSTLVs that were owned by Taiwanese residents and registered outside the Taiwan Province of China. About 70 percent of these were relatively new, but they could not be re-registered to the Taiwan Province of China because its limit for vessels had already been reached. Further consultations led to a new program to expeditiously dispose these vessels in accordance with the ICCAT resolution entitled "More Effective Measures to Prevent Deter and Eliminate IUU Fishing by Tuna Longline Vessels". Officials of the Government of Japan also talked with officials of the governments of Vanuatu and the Seychelles, major flag states in which the remaining vessels were registered, and reached an agreement with them to put those vessels under strict control. The owners of 69 of such vessels committed themselves to comply with the following cooperative management schemes:

Even after all of the above, approximately 30 older LSTLVs owned by Taiwanese and registered outside the Taiwan Province of China are believed to remain (Figure 1).

Transition of the numbers of IUU large-scale tuna longline vessels

* Japan-Taiwan Joint Action Program to Eliminate IUU Vessels concluded in January 2000

** CPCs means "Contracting Parties" and "Cooperative non-Contracting Parties, Entities or Fishing Entities"

*** Cooperative Management Scheme between Japan and Seychelles/Vanuatu was agreed in July 2003

However, many of these are no longer engaged in longline fishing for tunas, having been transformed for purposes other than longlining for tunas or become inactive. Accordingly, the number of such LSTLVs is now very small.

4. Emergence of another problem-increased fishing capacity of the purse-seine fleet

The success in reduction of IUU longline fishing is probably attributable to the fact that Japan is, by far, the most important market for sashimi-grade tuna, so it was relatively easy to monitor the imports of tunas caught by LSTLVs and take measures against tunas caught by IUU fishing.

In addition, it was quite fortunate that the Government of Japan could determine the ownership of the vessels that landed sashimi-grade tuna in Japan and consult directly with the authorities of the Taiwan Province of China to achieve an effective settlement of the matter.

Recently, however, it has become apparent that overcapacity has become a problem in the purse-seine fishery, especially in the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) where, so far, no management measures have been implemented.

Despite the Palau Agreement, which limits the number of purse seiners in the WCPO, and resolutions calling for restriction over expansion of fishing effort that were adopted by Preparatory Conference for the Commission for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific in 1999 and 2002, the catch of tunas in this region has been increasing more rapidly than those in other ocean areas (Figure 2). This increase is caused mainly by increases in purse-seine fishing capacity (Figures 3 and 4).

The expansion of purse seine fishing capacity involves the following fundamental problems:

Global catches of albacore, bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin by ocean area

Number of purse seine vessels in each area

Total catches of albacore, bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin in the WCPO by gear type

5. Conclusions and recommendations

In the recent years significant progress was made in reducing IUU fishing and uncontrolled expansion of fishing capacity for the large-scale tuna longline fishery. The highly-mobile nature of the vessels required that whatever measures were taken be applied globally, as unanimously advised at the twenty-fifth session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries. Global application of lists of vessels that were authorized to participate in various fisheries played a decisive role for this progress. Unfortunately, however, these measures apply only to longliners greater than 24 metres in overall length (LOA), so owners have been constructing vessel less than 24 metres in LOA, but fully capable of fishing for sashimi-grade tuna, to avoid these restrictions.

Purse seine and longline catches (number of fish) of bigeye in the WCPO

Catch trend of Japanese coastal longline

There is also excess fishing capacity for tuna purse-seine vessels, and this problem is even further from solution than that for longline vessels. The solutions to the problem are, for the most part, the same as that for the longline fishery, i.e. establishment of lists of vessels that are authorized to participate in various fisheries, scrapping of older vessels and restrictions on construction of new vessels. In addition, an industry organization, the World Tuna Purse Seine Organization, has adopted measures that require its members to reduce the times spend fishing.

At the same time, many developing states adjacent to fishing areas wish to increase their participation in the fisheries. Since there are already more vessels than needed, this can be accomplished only at the expense of the developed states, which would require difficult negotiations.

Consequently, it is recommended that the following actions be taken as promptly as possible:

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