Bigeye tuna overfished in the Pacific, warns report

15/01/2012 16:25

The bigeye tuna is a species that is being overfished in the Pacific. Picture courtesy of Greenpeace


The bigeye tuna is being overfished in the Pacific and its harvesting should be reduced by 32 per cent to ensure its long-term sustainability, a scientific report has recommended.

A report released recently by the Noumea-based Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) from a 2010 tuna fishery assessment exercise, has recommended that bigeye tuna fishing be reduced by about 32 per cent from the average 2006-2009 levels to ensure its long-term sustainability.

Though the tuna species is not at risk of extinction and is unlikely to be, the report has raised concerns that its overfishing continues unabated in the western and central Pacific.

Using fisheries and biological data, some going back to the 1950s, SPC has assessed the trends and current stocks of the four tuna species mainly targeted by fishers: skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye and south Pacific albacore.

The 2010 catch for all four species is estimated at 2,421,113 tonnes, the second highest annual catch on record. It represents 83 per cent of the total Pacific Ocean catch and 60 per cent of the global tuna catch.

“Overall, the fishery is in the best shape of all the tuna fisheries in the world. On a scale of 1–10, we estimate it as 6–7, a green traffic light tinged with orange. But there has been an upward trend in total tuna catch for many years, mainly due to increases in purse-seine fishery catches, which accounted for 75% of the 2010 catch,” said John Hampton, the SPC oceanic fisheries programme manager.

The bigeye tuna represents just 5 per cent of the fishery’s total tuna catch. Most of the bigeye catch is taken in equatorial areas, both by purse-seine and long-line. The purse-seine and domestic surface fisheries of the Philippines and Indonesia take large numbers of small bigeye.

The assessment report concluded that yellowfin, skipjack and south Pacific albacore tuna stocks are being fished at a moderate level and stocks are reasonably healthy.

But Mr Hampton warned against complacency and appealed for responsible management action plans to keep stocks healthy.

“Though some species are being fished within generally accepted levels, this does not mean that there is potential for higher catches. Now is the time to think about limiting catches or fishing effort at around the current levels,” he said.

The report in particular recommended that the yellowfin catch in the western equatorial Pacific be limited to around current levels and that limits on skipjack fishing should also be considered.