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Scientists To Identify Sustainable Fishing Solutions

12 May 2011

EQUADOR – Fisheries, research scientists and tuna fishers are working together aboard a Pacific Tuna Vessel to identify sustainable fishing solutions. The crew will spend the next two months at sea launching the next phase of a globally coordinated project to promote effective, practical techniques to reduce the environmental impact of tuna fishing.

Purse seine vessels, which use large nets to catch fish, provide the world with millions of tons of tuna every year. Crews use floating objects that attract fish, called FADs, as these make the process more time and fuel efficient.

There is however the drawback of bycatch; the unintended capture of marine life. An average of 5 per cent of a vessel’s catch can be non-tunas and sharks.

The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) has therefore called for a significant reduction in this potentially environmentally damaging waste and has spent more than one year facilitating the detailed planning of a worldwide project incorporating research, fisher education and development of new techniques and uses for existing technology.

“The problem and its scope have been identified,” said Susan Jackson, President of ISSF. “Now it’s time to get on the water and make significant improvements alongside industry that help them to remain viable without jeopardizing the world’s tuna resources and the ocean’s complex marine ecosystem.”

The first cruise, a collaboration between ISSF and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) will spend two months in the eastern Pacific Ocean aboard the Yolanda L, a purse seine vessel. A workboat carried aboard the vessel will be used to conduct various experiments on aggregations of tunas associated with FADs will be equipped with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), a state of the art echosounder and acoustic tracking systems. These technologies will be used by scientists to explore and potentially identify new fishing practices to allow purse seine vessels to continue harvesting healthy stocks of tunas while reducing the impact on vulnerable species. Researchers will also look for ways to prevent the entanglement of turtles and sharks in FADs by testing different designs made of biodegradable materials.

“In reality all fisheries have trade-offs and a certain level of environmental impact. Some have advocated for abandoning these fisheries, a move that industry has warned us would cut the world’s tuna supply in half, lead to thousands of job losses and additional financial strain on developing economies,” Ms. Jackson said. “Rather than walking away and giving up, we must help a willing industry improve its practices.”

Dr. Victor Restrepo, Chair of the ISSF Scientific Advisory Committee, stated how the cruise “will help our team of scientists and collaborators improve the educational workshops already being conducted with fishing crews around the world. As scientists identify new solutions, we will incorporate the findings into workshops so that skippers and vessel captains can provide real-time feedback. If something isn’t realistic or fishers have an idea on how to improve it, we’ll have the ability to take the idea back onto the water.”

Workshops have already been held in fishing ports in the Americas, Africa, Europe and the Pacific Islands region. More are planned in the coming months.

While the first vessel project will conduct work in the eastern Pacific Ocean, due to the major impact purse seine FAD fishing has had on bigeye tuna stocks which have been depleted due to overfishing, additional cruises will launch in the western and central Pacific and Atlantic Oceans over the next year.

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