Tuna observer programme under funding threat

Fisheries representatives reacted with dismay to the news that training programmes in Pacific fisheries may be axed.

At the Heads of Fisheries meeting convened by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in Noumea today, they argued strongly for a continuation of the observer training programme.

Observers work onboard fishing vessels, where they take samples of tuna and record the size, type and catch location of the fish. This is part of a major scientific programme to monitor the health of the tuna industry in the Pacific.

Mike Batty, Director of SPC’s Fisheries, Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems Division, says the tuna industry is worth USD 5 billion a year.

‘It’s a huge industry, and provides employment and a source of income to Pacific nations,’ he says. ‘This at-sea monitoring is vital to keep the tuna industry in good shape. Industry already pays many direct costs of observer placement but it will take time to get them to absorb training costs.’

Before taking up positions onboard ship, observers work through a rigorous training programme. This training is carried out by SPC, and funded by donations from New Zealand and the European Union.

Some funding is due to end this year and another part in 2014. This threatens the capacity of SPC to offer training programmes, which is a source of concern for delegates to the Heads of Fisheries meeting.

Sione Matoto, Director of Tonga’s Ministry of Agriculture & Food, Forestry and Fisheries, says the work of collecting samples is important to the tuna industry.

‘I would like New Zealand and the EU to continue to provide some support for the training programme,’ he says. ‘It provides employment in Tonga, and there are issues of compliance in the tuna industry.’

Peter Sharples, SPC’s Observer Development and Support Coordinator, says there is a great need for consistent observer training that fits into regional data management requirements.

‘All the facts and figures are sent through to the SPC head office to create a big picture of what’s happening in the tuna industry. We have to meet new requirements given by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

‘We need more observers quickly, but our aim is to help Pacific countries train their own observers.’


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