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Tuna purse seiners required to have onboard observer

By Giff Johnson MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Jan. 21, 2010) - The new fishing requirement that all purse seiners operating in the Pacific must have an observer on board is pushing the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority to triple its current crew of tuna boat observers working out of Majuro.

Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority Director Glen Joseph said Friday his agency has an observer training scheduled for February to develop a new group that will join the 30 observers now working for the fisheries department, and more trainings are planned for later in the year.

"By the end of 2010, we need to triple the current number of observers," Joseph said.

New fishing rules that went into effect January 1 require all purse seiners to have observers on board. Placing observers on fishing boats — who monitor and record tuna catches — provides the islands with fish data helpful for evaluating the health of tuna stocks in the region, and also helps with preventing illegal activity, he indicated.

"Our overarching concern is sustainability of the stock because without tuna, our domestic fleets won’t amount to anything," he said. Joseph acknowledged that Pacific islands are under pressure from distant water fishing nations to maintain high levels of fishing, and more are lining up to fish in the region, including European Union nations. But the islands are taking a long-term view for the fishing industry and the economics behind it, he said.

"The livelihood of the small island states depend on the fishing industry," Joseph said. Scientists have issued increasingly strong warnings that big eye tuna is being over-fished and yellow fin tuna is on the verge of over-fishing. Both are prized by global sashimi markets, particularly in Asia.

The observer coverage is just one of several new rules that are being implemented in the Marshall Islands and other island nations based on stepped-up enforcement action by the "Parties to the Nauru Agreement," the group of eight island nations that control ocean area where most of the tuna is caught for the industry that is valued at US$4 billion annually.

Other measures to reduce catches include a three-month ban on the use of "fish aggregation devices" — platforms used by fishing boats to attract fish in the open ocean — and closure of ocean "pockets" that lie between the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of several island nations. Over the next three years, the aim is to reduce catches in the region by 30 percent, Joseph said.

Once the Marshall Islands reaches 100 percent coverage for purse seiners, then "we have to focus on long line fishing boats," Joseph said.

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