Differing criteria on the application of Interim Measures as a provisional approach for the management of pelagic fisheries in the Eastern Pacific pending the ratification of an International Convention may risk the survival of valuable fish stocks.
FAO statistics and scientific stock assessments in recent years indicate that the global marine fisheries are in an alarming state of overfishing. It is estimated that the global fishing fleet currently consists of not less than 4.3 million vessels engaged in the capture of ever dwindling fish resources. The fishing fleet ranges from small rowing or motor boats to huge factory ships that collect and process the catch of industrial vessels in large high seas fishing operations.
The fishing effort encompasses all oceans, but concentrates mostly in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast Pacific Oceans. As a result, 52% of fish stocks are currently fully exploited, 20% are moderately exploited, 17% are overexploited, 7% are depleted, and only 1% is recovering from depletion.
The main fishing countries are China, Peru, Indonesia, USA, Japan, India and Chile. The main resources caught include Anchoveta, Alaska pollock, Atlantic herring, Skipjack tuna and Chilean jack mackerel.
The fish stocks of the most important fisheries are pelagic (living in open oceans) and trans-zonal. Obviously, they are oblivious to political divisions of the ocean and the existence of exclusive economic zones. This causes many situations in which countries targeting the same species come into conflict regarding availability, use and conservation of resources.
Fortunately there are mechanisms and agreements that facilitate or tend to the establishment of fishing quotas, harvest levels and possibly closure periods with the purpose of maintaining adequate quantities of the resources and preventing their extinction. Such is the case of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO).
Digital Journal recently reported the conflict between the delegations of Peru and Chile on catches of Chilean jack mackerel (Trachurus murphyi) in territorial waters of Peru which, according to Chilean fisheries authorities, in 2011 exceeded the levels established by the Interim Measures agreed at the preparatory meeting of Cali in early 2011 aiming to maintain the availability of the resource while a Convention to determine permanent measures of conservation is fully ratified.
Digital Journal interviewed Mr. Italo Campodónico, Marine Biologist, Head of the Department of Fisheries,
Marine Biologist Italo Campodónico, Head of the Department of Fisheries, Fisheries Under-Secretariat, Chile (Courtesy I. Campodónico).
Fisheries Under-Secretariat, and a member of the delegation of the Government of Chile to the latest meeting of the SPRFMO which took place in early February in Santiago de Chile.
Digital Journal: The Peruvian fisheries authorities insist that the agreements for reduction of captures of Chilean jack mackerel refer to the high seas fisheries only, they do not include populations in territorial waters and that, unlike what happens in Chile, "the Peruvian jack mackerel stock is in a healthy state". Is it justified to refer to “a Peruvian stock” of jack mackerel?
Italo Campodónico: So far we have no conclusive scientific evidence on the existence of a stock of jack mackerel in Peru, separated from the rest of the South Eastern Pacific stock. At the beginning of negotiations to establish the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO), a research program was set up to elucidate the possible existence of one or more stocks and now Chile is implementing the second phase of a project using different methodologies to investigate the genetic population structure of this species across the South Pacific Ocean.
DJ: How would you describe the main objections of the fisheries authorities of Chile concerning the fishing of mackerel by Peru which led to the Chilean complaint at the meeting of the SPRFMO in Santiago?
IC: Chile is aware that the catches made by Peru within its territorial sea in 2011 are legal; our objection is that the amount of such catch is not compatible with the conservation measures agreed voluntarily by the SPRFMO in the Preparatory Conference which took place in Cali, Colombia, in January 2011.
DJ: According to assessments carried out by the Chilean Institute of Fisheries Development (IFOP), about 95% of the catches of mackerel in northern Chile are fish under the legal size. Could this be related to the allegedly excessive catches done by Peru, is it possible that this may have something to do with the reduction of the minimum catch size from 26 to 22 cm made available to fishing companies in northern Chile under the guise of "research fishing", or could there be another reason?
IC: This issue demands some clarifications: historically, catches of mackerel in northern Chile have been based mainly on juvenile fish, age 2 or 3 years old and therefore they are smaller than the minimum legal size (26 cm), this is not something new. On the other hand, it is significant that the size of 22 cm is a reference size, temporarily authorized for mackerel catches in the northernmost regions of Chile which will be in effect until the conclusion of a project in progress aiming to determine the size at maturity of mackerel.
The high catches of jack mackerel in the Peruvian coast in 2011, which also included juveniles, were the result of a high availability of the resource.
DJ: Stock assessments suggest that the mackerel biomass is currently at a level between 10 and 20% (~ 14%) of what could be expected in the absence of fishing. This situation is considered critical and well below the biological and precautionary limit to prevent the extinction of the resource. Do you think that a closure of the mackerel fishery may contribute to the recovery of the resource?
IC: Certainly, from a purely biological standpoint, the ban or moratorium on fishing for a period of several years would contribute to the recovery of the jack mackerel stock, but this is a measure that must also be assessed from other angles, since a closure would have high economic and social impacts.
In my opinion, without evidence of recovery of the biomass levels, the overall reduction in annual catches must certainly continue. Fishing mortality is the main cause of the decline experienced by the parental fraction of the population which, in turn, is responsible for future recruitment.
DJ: How do you see the future of jack mackerel in the medium and long term if closures that could prevent the
Canned Chilean Jack Mackerel may become a thing of the past if proposed conservation measures fail to prevent the collapse of the fishery.
depletion of the resource are not implemented? Do you think that in future meetings an agreement could be reached among members of the SPRFMO to establish closures or significant reductions in current levels of resource exploitation?
IC: Once the Convention on the Conservation and Management of High Seas Fishery Resources in the South Pacific Ocean enters into force, it will be binding on all parties to meet the terms of the conservation measures established; therefore we may expect a better future for the jack mackerel. However, one aspect of concern for Chile is that there is an effective control system to ensure compliance of the regulatory measures agreed on.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Chilean fisheries authorities have declared that the government is progressing in the ratification of the agreement and hope to conclude the legislative process within the next three months which may allow for entry into force of the Convention by the end of the first half of 2012. The implementation of the agreements established by the Convention is deemed essential to ensure the sustainability of Chilean jack mackerel and other fisheries resources of the South Pacific Ocean.