Turtles and fisheries in the Pacific Community area. Marine Resources Division, Secretariat of the Pacific Community 1

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1 Turtles and fisheries in the Pacific Community area Marine Resources Division, Secretariat of the Pacific Community 1 Introduction This paper will discursively and frankly address issues of fisheries with respect to turtles in the Pacific Islands region, and the role of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. Pacific Island regional organisations SPC is a Pacific Island regional organisation, set up 56 years ago with general advisory, sustainable development and representational responsibilities in various fields fields that benefit from a regional approach involving the small island states and territories of the Pacific. SPC has avoided subjects inappropriate to its non-political founding mandate, and divested or devolved various responsibilities over the decades as national capacities have developed or as more specialised regional organisations have been established. For example, SPC devolved its environment programme in 1992, when the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) was constituted as a separate regional organisation in Samoa. In the fisheries sector, SPC has divested itself specifically of tuna fishery management advisory functions, which have been invested in the Forum Fisheries Agency since 1979, but retained its fisheries scientific and development functions. At the present time SPC is just one, albeit the largest and oldest, of the family comprising the Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific (CROP), which is headed at the political level by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). The Pacific Community is a term that has been used since 1997 to collectively describe the 22 Pacific island independent states and dependent territories 2 that are members of SPC and SPREP, in equal partnership with 5 metropolitan members Australia, France, New Zealand, UK and USA, whilst the Pacific Islands Forum 3 area is restricted to the 14 independent developing Pacific Island states in partnership with two developed members Australia and New Zealand. For the purposes of oceanic species and fisheries management, the SPC Fisheries Statistical Area is probably the most relevant and widely-accepted geographical unit, but there are several other possible area definitions that may be relevant, including the new highly migratory fish stocks convention area (see Figure 1) American Samoa, Cook Islands*, Federated States of Micronesia*, Fiji*, Polynésie Française, Guam, Kiribati*, Marshall Islands*, Nauru*, Niue*, Nouvelle-Calédonie, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau*, Papua New Guinea*, Pitcairn, Samoa*, Solomon Islands*, Tokelau, Tonga*, Tuvalu*, Vanuatu*, Wallis et Futuna [Forum members*] 3 The Pacific Islands Forum was until recently known as the South Pacific Forum. Both the Forum and the Community have dropped the word South from their names in recognition of their Pacific Island members north of the Equator.

2 Figure 1: SPC Fisheries Statistical Area (outlined by solid black line). The red and dotted line is the proposed area to be covered by the WCP Highly Migratory Fish Stocks Convention. Pacific Island turtle fisheries Turtles have been of considerable interest to Pacific Island governments and regional institutions for a century or more, and form one of the few classes of organism that is specifically mentioned in many colonial-era fisheries statutes. They have long been recognised as being vulnerable to development impacts, as well of being of considerable cultural importance to many Pacific Island communities. Thus neither their iconic status, nor the effort to manage human impacts upon them, is new. Because turtles, particularly the more coastal species of Green (Chelonia mydas) and Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) turtles, are traditionally fished, their development, management and conservation has usually been under the oversight of Pacific Island fisheries departments. Unfortunately, national fisheries departments, whilst they can attempt to manage the impacts of fisheries on turtles, do not have competence or jurisdiction over several critical stages of the turtle life-cycle, particularly the land-based reproductive stages. SPC, in collaboration with several member country fisheries departments (particularly Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, French Polynesia and Cook Islands) had for much of the 1970s tried to promote headstarting, or hatchery-rearing of newly-hatched turtles, in order to try and mitigate this bottleneck in the life cycle. In most of these experiments, the idea was that most turtles would be released into the wild once they were past the stage of being very vulnerable to predators, whilst others would be grown in captivity to provide for commercial uses and to enable the catching of wild turtles to be more readily restricted or prohibited to promote social compliance without concomitant economic hardship. However, these aquaculture solutions were abandoned when evidence was presented to show that instinctual imprinting failures were likely to lead to behavioural modifications that might

3 totally prevent successful breeding in artificially headstarted and released turtles. Care might actually be further threatening the survival of these species. Public concern about turtles has been driven in most Pacific Island countries by a combination of community worries about declining numbers of turtles being sighted, and the rapidly changing perceptions of western tourists. Whilst previously it had been an essential part of the Pacific Island experience to treat visitors to a feast involving such high-status traditional delicacies as giant clam and turtle, by the 1980s tourists were more likely to be disgusted than honoured by a feast which had a turtle as centrepiece, and whose capture and butchering they had been afforded the privilege of witnessing. However, unlike the giant clam, where there was a huge spike in exploitation in the late 1970s and 1980s with poaching, and then the export demand in Taiwan, turtles were subject to a more continuous lower-level export demand. The regular trade was mainly to supply the demand for hawksbill shell by craft jewellers in Japan, and even this, according to many memories, did not stimulate greatly elevated local harvest levels, but used the existing production of otherwise wasted shell from the local consumption of turtle meat. Turtles are an extremely culturally significant animal in many Pacific Island societies, and this is reflected both in the comprehensiveness of the regulations enacted over the previous century to control the fishing of turtles (in fisheries which are otherwise largely unregulated by government), and the relative readiness with which Pacific Island governments and traditional authorities have since imposed even more stringent control measures. In many islands, turtles are a chiefly resource, and people are accustomed to periodic restrictions on using them. Apart from the lack of jurisdiction over land-based impacts to turtle populations in nesting areas, another of the problems facing fisheries departments in managing turtle fisheries is the sheer lack of information about the actual local status of the different turtle populations, and of the main sources of turtle mortality and the constraints on recruitment. Pacific Island fisheries managers do not have the capacity to compile village turtle catch figures, and do not have the resources to mount sustained tag-recapture experiments, and the main information reaching them has been shell export figures, turtle meat commercial sales (in a few countries where markets are monitored), and a steadily rising number of enquiries and complaints from the public where it was difficult to separate valid indigenous ecological knowledge from the effects of external awareness-raising campaigns. Regional programmes to address turtle issues It was in this context that the first SPC joint Fisheries Programme/Environment Programme Turtle Workshop was convened back-to-back with a Regional Technical Meeting on Fisheries in Various aspects of the attempts to quantify and boost turtle populations had been discussed and reported by Pacific Island nations and territories during previous SPC meetings, but this was the first dedicated meeting on turtles for some time, and this meeting laid the groundwork that eventually led to SPREP s turtle project funded by Canada and others later in the 1990s. This meeting marked the changeover, at the regional level, of turtles being a mainly fisheries concern to becoming a species conservation concern. There are some who have worried that this was not a good outcome for turtles in the region, because turtles then might fall between the two stools of SPREP and SPC. And whilst

4 regional turtle capacity was concentrated in the regional environment agency, national capacity, particularly regulatory responsibility, was still invested in fisheries services, with no direct connection to the regional environment agency. In some countries, a similar shift in responsibility was attempted at the national level, and different countries have different stories to tell about trying to change the balance of fisheries and conservation jurisdiction. However, this occasional confusion between fisheries and environment responsibility at the regional and national levels has probably not been a major factor, because of the overall lack of effective capacity at both the national government and regional levels to rigorously deal with marine management issues across the huge expanse of the sparsely-populated Pacific. The onus of governance has continued to fall mainly on the shoulders of traditional jurisdictions and communities, and this has been subject to a different, more complex, set of institutional pressures, and is relatively unaffected by what goes on at the regional level. Future priorities The main issues confronting turtles in the Pacific Islands, to date, have been seen as coastal issues:- impacts on nesting beaches, pollution and coastal fishing (both commercial and traditional). And concern has centred on green and hawksbill turtles rather than the rarelyseen leatherback and loggerhead. It is only recently that the impacts of longline fishing on oceanic turtles have come to the fore, and much of this awareness has originated outside the SPC/SPREP region. Although Papua New Guinea has more species, the focus of most Pacific Island fishing communities will continue to be mainly on Green and Hawksbill the turtles that are part of their traditional fisheries. The Leatherback will probably require a more governmental approach. In most islands the oceanic Leatherback is rarely sighted, and their unfamiliarity is poignantly illustrated by the occasional mass-poisonings, sometimes of whole villages, when these turtles are occasionally consumed in places like Fiji. There is considerable erosion of traditional knowledge about such rarely-seen species and when a leatherback is caught, it is often referred to the fisheries department for identification, or pictured in the national newspaper. The critical point in the lifecycle of all turtles is the nesting beach, and this is the point where conservation efforts (in comparison with fisheries management efforts) are likely to be most effective. The role of communities in turtle conservation hinges on their customs and traditional fishing practices. Although traditions vary hugely across the Pacific, turtles are often revered they are regarded as a chiefly food or their consumption restricted to special occasions such as weddings and funerals and several islands are famous for their turtle-callers. This high status has provided powerful incentives for conservation action, particularly the restriction of external trade, or the restriction of non-traditional methods of capture, such as the use of outboard-powered boats for hunting down turtles. There has been considerable success in recent years in several island communities where cultural strengthening has gone hand-in-hand with conservative resource management. The role of fisheries departments is probably most effectively focussed on regulation at the point of trade, particularly external trade, and on the incidental capture of turtles by commercial fishing vessels. Bilateral and multilateral EEZ fishing agreements between

5 Pacific island governments and foreign fishing nations are starting to include specific measures to quantify and minimise bycatch, and the Forum Fisheries Agency 4 plays a major advisory role here with respect to legislation and MCS 5, whilst the SPC Fisheries Information, Training, Development and Maritime units are involved in awareness-raising and training of commercial fishers in bycatch avoidance and techniques for releasing turtles alive if caught. The role of national planning and tourism offices in protecting nesting beaches is likely to be crucial, and the zoning of development areas needs to take the turtle nesting factor into account. Some hotel and dive operators have proven to be considerable allies in both protecting and monitoring nearby island nesting beaches, but well-meaning efforts need to be carefully informed in case they do more harm than good. Information needs Above all, more information is needed in order to steer efforts towards maximum effectiveness. The history of turtle conservation in the Pacific Island over the decades has some notable examples of misguided pre-emptive action without information, including headstarting schemes, and the concentration of resources on socially-unsustainable measures. In particular, we need a good assessment of the relative importance of the different sources of mortality of turtles at different stages of their life-cycles. We need to know the relative impact of adult predation, disease, nesting beach loss, community fishing, oceanic fishing, and hatchling predation by both indigenous and introduced predators. What are the success-factors for nesting, and how is nesting correlated with climate? What is the effect of different oceanic and local pollutants? How many turtles are there? Just how interconnected are turtle populations, and how many stocks of each species are there? How many turtles are caught by fishing of all kinds? Pacific Island governments do not have access to the same kind of high-quality information about the status and prospects of regional turtle populations as they do about, for example, regional tuna populations. Partly this is because turtles are seen by decision-makers as a conservation rather than a fisheries management problem, so different institutional mechanisms apply, and partly because they are not the target species of any commercial fishery at the regional level accidentally catching turtles does not generate money, and the developing countries of the region are only just moving into a phase where developed-country ideas about taxing natural resource-users to cover environmental monitoring and management are being considered feasible. Most of the available information thus has resulted from the continuing support of development partners and donors. Role of SPC SPC is the regional lead agency for fishery stock assessment, but has always been required to concentrate its oceanic fishery assessment resources on tuna, whilst SPREP has taken the lead on endangered species, including turtle. These issues are now starting to come together with concern about turtles as a bycatch in commercial tuna fisheries and, although other sources of turtle mortality are probably more significant, these provide a new focal point for collaboration between the regional fisheries and environment agencies Monitoring, Control and Surveillance

6 The recent review of turtle by-catch in the western and central Pacific Ocean tuna fisheries (SPC, 2001) produced for SPREP by SPC illustrates this interaction, and future collaboration between SPC and SPREP is expected to take place to improve the turtle tag-recapture database and its analytical outputs. SPC already runs an oceanic fishery tagging program and has been able to forward information about tagged turtles to SPREP, but this service needs to be enhanced with information and rewards being returned to data or tag-providers something which SPREP is currently recruiting an officer for. SPC also coordinates and provides training for national tuna fishery scientific observer programs, and collates the information produced by these observers as part of the regional tuna database. However, SPC is currently lacking in capacity to carry out more than incidental work on turtles and other tuna fishery bycatch species. And what work it accomplishes on these species is usually a spin-off from the work it is funded to carry out assessing the four targeted tuna species. Like most CROP regional programs, the SPC Oceanic and Coastal Fisheries Programmes are 95% donor, or special project-funded, with little latitude for diverting existing project funding into new priorities, and so far we have not been able to obtain funding for a project to focus specific attention on bycatch, or turtles. Ideally, SPC would like to recruit or attach one or two staff scientists to the Ocean Fisheries Programme to concentrate specifically on assessing the status of turtle, and other bycatch species, with the aim of producing annual species and country status reports in the same manner as those currently produced to assist Pacific Island countries in managing targeted stocks of tuna. The first turtle population status reports would necessarily be fuzzy, but would gradually become more precise as information and experience builds up, and would inform both national and regional tuna fisheries management and licencing decisions, as well as being of benefit to coastal or community decision-makers, turtle researchers and conservation programs. The new Western and Central Pacific Ocean Highly Migratory Fish Stocks Convention (more conveniently labelled the WCP Tuna Convention ) is likely to come into force soon, and this is likely to extend the monitoring and control of tuna fishery bycatch to the high seas in the region something which can currently only be formally managed within EEZs under national law and under any Pacific Island collective agreements administered by the Forum Fisheries Agency. The new Commission that implements the Convention will also have to pay some attention to the assessment of bycatch. Whilst Pacific Island countries have expressed a preference for SPC to be the scientific contractor to the preparatory phase to the Commission and during its initial implementation, discussion has so far focussed on the four tuna target species, and the mechanism for dealing with other species has not yet been defined. The intention is that much of the monitoring and assessment work would eventually be funded under a user-pays arrangement a per-vessel cost that will be built into the total cost of a licence to fish for tuna in the WCPTC region, but such an arrangement is yet to be formally defined, and is some years down the track. There is an urgent need for a project to start building practical bycatch and designated species assessment measures into the oceanic fisheries management mechanisms being developed in the SPC/SPREP region.

7 The role of SPC and Pacific Island fisheries departments in these issues is perhaps best encapsulated by Output #19 of the 3 rd SPC Heads of Fisheries Meeting in August 2003: The meeting pointed out that it is the responsibility of national and territorial Heads of Fisheries to ensure that no species becomes endangered because of fishing. Whilst it is recognised that SPC is not the lead regional agency for endangered species conservation, the meeting encouraged the SPC Marine Resources Division to continue to take account of the interaction between fisheries and endangered species, and to develop capacity in assessing, and assisting in the rehabilitation of, populations of endangered species significantly affected by fishing; There was considerable discussion about the exact wording of this statement, to avoid confusion between the mandates of fisheries and environment departments, but this is a commitment by Pacific Island fisheries services that is not often made so explicitly. As well as assessment of the status of oceanic fisheries under the Oceanic Fisheries Programme, the SPC also works with commercial and village fishing interests, through its Coastal Fisheries Programme, to help prevent turtles being caught (including demonstrating and experimenting with bycatch-friendly tuna fishing gear) through its two masterfishermen, and with Pacific Island maritime and fisheries training institutions to include bycatch awareness and mitigation measures in vocational educational curricula. We have also produced information materials to assist those aboard fishing vessels with identifying and the live release of accidentally hooked turtles. All of these activities are part of the overall work-programme, and not part of a turtle-specific project, and are prioritised according to the needs expressed by SPC s member fisheries and maritime services the SPC Marine Resources Division s primary stakeholders.. Longline fishing The new reality is that the global public is becoming extremely critical of fishers, particularly those who use longlines, as being the cause of the imminent extinction of turtles in the Pacific, and Pacific Island fishers are willing to go to some lengths to introduce mitigation measures in an attempt to try and persuade the overseas buyers of their fish that they are conforming to best environmental practices as well as best hygiene practices. Clearly the credibility of observer programmes will become a major factor. But whether the public will believe them or not is another question, and if tuna longline operators perceive that there is no hope of being believed then they are less likely to spend money on mitigation and avoidance measures, or allow monitoring, and concentrate on less critical, if less lucrative markets. Many SPC member countries and territories have come to rely very heavily on longlinecaught tuna as a major source of export income. In some small island developing states it is the most valuable component of trade, and there is a rough inverse correlation between the size of the country and their economic dependence on tuna fishing 6. Longlining to produce tuna for the high-quality high-value airfreight market is a kind of fishing that can be carried out by small to medium-scale fishing boats, affordable in developing economies, and which capitalises on a major resource where the target species are currently effectively and sustainably managed. Purse-seining for the skipjack and yellowfin canned or frozen market requires a much higher level of investment, a much higher volume of production, and 6 with Papua New Guinea and Fiji being relatively non-dependent, whilst Tuvalu and Kiribati are very highly dependent, with some other atoll countries following close behind.

8 industrial processing, unlike the almost cottage scale of Pacific Island longlining. Longlining has so far proven to be the only way in which Pacific Island developing states can get a significant share of the Pacific Islands tuna fishery, which is still mainly caught by distant water fishing nations, and it is because of longlining that this Pacific Islands share of the fishery has doubled over the past decade. Ironically, the development of small-scale longlining in the Pacific was strongly promoted by donor countries and development agencies (including SPC) in the 1980s and 1990s as a dolphin friendly, as well as more cost-effective alternative to purse-seining and driftnetting, and there is some distress about the scale of the animosity that has suddenly emerged towards this fishing method in some parts of the developed world. All of this adds up to a strong incentive for small Pacific Island nations to try and enforce measures that avoid unsustainable bycatch. It is not a case of mutually exclusive outcomes of either conserving Pacific Island economies or conserving turtles. To paraphrase the President of the USA, we believe that turtles and longline fisheries can coexist. Particularly if certain types of gear, bait and setting practices are avoided, and indeed, that the fishing industry can be become a strong force in improving knowledge about, and the conservation status of turtles, if the issue is managed with understanding and goodwill. However, as an apolitical organisation, SPC would not seek to manage such issues itself. Our role is to concentrate on providing advice that is as impartial and comprehensive as possible, to help solve practical fishing problems (of which unsustainable bycatch is one), and to provide practical information to inform the decisions of Pacific Island fishery managers. A worst-case scenario for the Pacific Islands would be if longlining is destined to go the same way as driftnetting, and subject to a global ban. Pacific Island governments would need to start developing economic exit strategies right now, particularly the smaller developing countries, if economic exit is indeed possible. Some of these island nations are already considered to be economic basket cases or have been accused of being failed states, and a source of political instability. A ban on longlining should not be considered lightly. Reef fisheries One final activity of SPC s that may have some relevance to the turtle issue is the assessment of reef fisheries. SPC is running an EU-funded project that will cover the 14 independent Pacific Island states and 3 French Pacific territories with a benchmark reef fishery survey using comparable methodologies at each site over 5 years. Although turtle is not one of the specifically-surveyed organisms, some information about the usage of turtles by Pacific Island communities is likely to emerge, and the project also includes a major new initiative to develop a Pacific Islands Reef Fisheries Data Repository which will aim to codify existing information as well as the new information generated by the project. This will include any information already collected by Pacific Islands fisheries services about turtle fisheries. Output #31 of the of the 3 rd SPC Heads of Fisheries Meeting included the following paragraph, which encapsulates the thinking behind this sub-project: The Coastal component of the PROCFish project should push forward plans, through the regional coastal fisheries data repository, to integrate all relevant existing information available from previous local work into the comparative assessments,

9 including any environmental and socio-economic survey data available. Heads of Fisheries recognised the potential value of both the ecosystem approach and the comanagement approach to reef fisheries management, and the need for the firmest possible information-base on which to develop workable approaches, as well as the need for an accessible central repository to avoid potential duplication of effort by the various other agencies and NGOs starting to collect data in this field; Regional Plan of Action? There is currently no IPOA (international plan of action) covering turtle/fishing interactions under ægis of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), although the possibility was discussed at the 2001 FAO Committee on Fisheries. SPC has considered the possibility of anyway proposing that its Pacific Island member countries and territories develop a regional plan of action to address Pacific Island turtle/fisheries interactions, but has hesitated to do so both because of a lack of resources to do justice to the development of such a plan, and because SPC prefers to respond to member country concerns rather than initiate them, particularly those with possible political ramifications, or which might be seen to pre-empt the role of other organisations. In this latter respect, FFA is the regional lead agency for oceanic fisheries management, and SPREP is the lead agency for endangered marine species conservation, whilst SPC s role would be in the applied population assessment, small-scale fisheries training, and coastal fisheries management aspects. However, the SPC Heads of Fisheries Meeting provides an entirely appropriate forum for Pacific Island states and territories to discuss such a potential initiative, and a session could be proposed for the August 2004 meeting, with input from all agencies concerned, if it appears viable. Another reason for our hesitation is the possibility that oceanic fisheries do not form the main threat to the survival of viable turtle populations, and that this issue should not be expanded so much in importance that it diverts resources away from tackling possibly more important threats. However it is clear that as long as oceanic fishing catches any turtles, critical public attention will be focussed on commercial tuna longlining, and that it is rapidly becoming necessary for the fishing community to do as much as possible within its power not only to avoid catching turtles as bycatch, but to be clearly seen to be doing so, with transparent and practical mechanisms to monitor and uphold agreed standards. A RPOA covering turtle/fisheries interactions could be an important part of this mechanism. Tim Adams Director, Marine Resources Division Secretariat of the Pacific Community 10 th November 2003

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