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The world’s high seas purse-seine fleet is made up of approximately 570 vessels ranging in size between about 250 and 4 000 tonnes of carrying capacity. The combined total carrying capacity of these vessels is about 600 000 tonnes. The recent catches made by this fleet have been nearly 2 million tonnes annually. This translates to about 3 tonnes of catch per capacity ton per year, or 3 600 tonnes per vessel per year, implying that the average tuna vessel makes about three trips per year (a few well managed, large purse-seine vessels have recorded annual catches in excess of 12 000 tonnes, although these are the exceptions). A modern, well-maintained tuna purse seine vessel can easily make four or five trips per year and still have time for vessel haul-out, repairs, and maintenance. Per vessel production of 3 600 tonnes per year is low and represents a waste of labour and capital, which places in jeopardy the possibilities of putting into place effective conservation and management programmes. In the EPO the purse-seine fleet catches about 3 tonnes of tuna per ton of carrying capacity. The DEA results show a CU substantially less than one. Since the global catch per capacity ton is similar to that of the fleet in the eastern Pacific, it seems possible that the CU for the global fleet is less than one, indicating it is not fully utilized. These figures of low production corroborate the expressions of concern by most of the regional tuna bodies, and by the tuna industry, that the size of the world’s tuna fleet is too large, and should be reduced. Though estimates of how much the purse-seine fleet should be reduced have not been given by the industry nor most of the regional bodies, it seems obvious that if the fleet were used more efficiently, the amount of tuna that is currently being harvested could be taken with significantly fewer vessels. In fact, scientists of the IATTC have suggested that the purse-seine fleet that operates in the eastern Pacific Ocean should be reduced by about 15-20%. These expressions of concern make the time propitious for initiation of some schemes of capacity limitation.

The process of devising a scheme for reducing purse-seine fleet capacity, obtaining agreement among the various players on it, and getting it into effect will be a long and arduous one. In the meantime, the world fleet is continuing to grow and the realities of effective management and conservation remain elusive. It is imperative that something be done quickly to reverse this trend. Over the short term, a practical approach would be to place a moratorium on the introduction of all types of new tuna vessels into the fishery. This could perhaps be most readily achieved for purse seine vessels by working with the WTPO. A “grass-roots” approach, emanating from within the industry, could prevent the fleet from growing, thus allowing time for governments and regional bodies to work on schemes to reduce capacity to optimum levels. There would be several factors that the WTPO would have to deal with to set a moratorium on fleet growth. The most important of these factors would be handling the matter of new entrants into the tuna fisheries. An approach that could be used by the WTPO would be for buyers and sellers to agree to purchase vessels only from within the current fleet, or to build only a vessel of a size equivalent to one that is removed from the fleet. In this case removed means scrapped and not transferred to other fisheries or other uses. It is important that governments, industry and regional tuna bodies, work with the WTPO, and other appropriate industry groups to achieve a moratorium as quickly as possible.

The initiatives taken by the longline industry to reduce fishing capacity on a global basis should be applauded by governments. The same governments of all nations with longline fleets should work with the longline industry to formalize the agreements and incorporate them within the framework of the regional tuna bodies. In this way other fleets not currently part of the longline industry coalition would be brought into the capacity limitation programme and the programmes would be strengthened and improved.

Considering the fact that baitboats and gillnets boats account for about 20 to 25% of the total landings of tuna, it is important that some scheme be developed to control the growth of these gear types. However, the urgency is not so compelling as it is for the purse-seine fleet. If controls are placed on purse seiners and longliners, but not on baitboats or gillnetters capital will flow toward the latter. Consideration should be given to working in a timely fashion toward the establishment of a moratorium on the addition of new baitboats and/or gillnetters to current fleets. Once established, a moratorium would allow time to examine alternative mechanisms for placing controls on baitboats and gill-net boats.

There are various actions that would have to be taken by governments and international organizations before a long-term solution to the capacity limitation problem, such as one of those mentioned earlier in this text, could become a reality. Important among these would be ensuring that the proper international legal basis exists for limiting entry into tuna fisheries and assigning property rights to the participants in those fisheries. Protocols to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and changes to the instruments establishing the various regional tuna bodies would have to be made. These changes would have to define the rights and obligations of states regarding the utilization of the sea’s living resources, and also the authority for international bodies to limit entry and assign property rights. In this respect, the FAO can act as a catalyst for these changes to the various instruments by convening a series of working groups and/or meetings to define what these changes should entail and how they should be made.

The five regional tuna bodies would benefit from the establishment of some sort of coordinating mechanism to harmonize their efforts to manage the world’s tuna fisheries, particularly with respect to limiting fishing capacity. Such a coordinating body, which would need to have some permanency, could be structured as an independent body serving the needs of the regional organizations, or it could be a part of the FAO. In this latter case however, provision would have to be made to allow the participation of governments and/or fishing entities which harvest tuna, but that are not members of the FAO, the United Nations, nor their specialized agencies. There are several functions that the permanent committee would need to carry out, including inter alia, coordinating the standardization and collection of catch data and creating and maintaining an international register of tuna fishing vessels.

It is also important to ensure the compliance of nations and vessel operators with the provisions of whatever agreements are made to limit fishing capacity and manage tuna fisheries. Like the permanent coordinating committee mentioned above, a permanent compliance committee, comprised of representatives of all of the regional tuna bodies, would be able to propose various actions to ensure that the terms of any agreements to limit capacity are complied with. An important matter that this committee would need to deal with is the development of international standards for the application of sanctions against nations or individuals whose actions diminish the effectiveness of the various international agreements to limit capacity and manage the tuna resources.

There are three very important technical matters that are in need of immediate research if effective schemes for managing fishing capacity are going to become a reality. The first is the development of quantitative means of monitoring efficiency changes or productivity growth in fishing vessels under management controls, the second has to do with the evaluation of buy-back schemes for multinational tuna fisheries, and the third has to do with the application of quantitative techniques to measuring fishing capacity. A logical approach to evaluate the first two of these research needs would be the establishment of technical working groups. Perhaps this could be established most effectively through the FAO. The third matter could be achieved by a Pacific-wide Data Envelopment Analysis, because data for individual vessels are available in the archives of the IATTC and SPC/FFA. A joint analysis of these data by scientists affiliated with the respective fisheries bodies would provide an excellent opportunity to evaluate fully the applicability of this technique to the world tuna fisheries.

In conclusion, a growing human population, which is expected to reach 10 billion people by the middle of the Twenty first century, is placing increasingly greater demand on the world’s natural resources. This is especially true respecting the sea’s living marine resources. Tuna resources are no exception to this, and in an effort to meet this growing demand, catches have steadily increased over the last 50 years. Tuna fleets have grown and become so large that many vessels are operating far below economic optima. These conditions make it difficult for governments to ensure the rational exploitation and adequate conservation of the tuna stocks. Bringing new vessels into the tuna fisheries of the world has been unrestricted and been considered everyone’s right, and this right is enshrined in international law. It is time to change this policy, and time to limit the number of vessels authorized to fish for tuna. The high seas can no longer be considered a frontier in which its natural resources are there for the taking. The current legal and political basis ensuring the right of every person to fish on the high seas must be re-examined and brought in line with current reality. This will require bold new approaches as to the management of the high-seas resources. The time we have to work on this is limited, and action must be swift if we are to ensure that tuna populations are maintained at levels of abundance that can support maximum yields on a sustained basis, and to guarantee to future generations the option to enjoy the benefits of these resources.

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