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Monday, 10 December 2012

Greenpeace/John West FAD fishing, from a recreational angler’s perspective.

The Issue
Some people might be aware of the Greenpeace campaign against John West, complete with TV ads, billboards, a video game as well as the usual social media outlets, Greenpeace have singled out John West as they hold the largest share of the canned tuna market in Australia, and started a campaign against their use of FADs (fish aggregation device) and advocating a change to FAD free and line and pole tuna fishing.   
Greenpeace claims that using FADs for tuna fishing has a buy-catch of over 10%, John West claims that independent observers have this figure at about 2% on average, (different areas have slightly different figures) included in the by-catch figures are also other juvenile species targeted by recreational anglers.
John West is working with WWF, to ensure fishing will be totally suitable by 2015, they are first investigat gear changes to eliminate the by-catch if that doesn’t work they will stop using the FADs. WWF has confirmed this and fully support this initiative, together they are investigating gear modifications to reduce by-catch.

The Greenpeace 2012 canned tuna guide

The two top companies listed are 100% line and pole fishing, and one of them actively targets yellow fin tuna, out of the rest, some of the others that have made a commitment to stop using FAD’s have given a time frame of 2015. John West is number six on the list out of 10 Australian companies.
Initially Greenpeace was not only claiming that FAD fishing should be stopped but that line and pole fishing is the better alternative and was advocating a change to line and pole fishing, as clearly indicated by its 2012 canned tuna guide.

Greenpeace include non-targeted tuna species (yellow fin and big eye) in the by-catch of FAD fishing, yet completely ignore not only the fact that the company at number one on its 2012 canned tuna guide actively target yellow fin tuna, but that the bait fishery associated with the line and pole fishery they are so actively promoting has its own by-catch problem that include non-targeted tuna species, and around Indonesia possibly a by-catch of juvenile Southern Blue Fin Tuna.  
FADs and recreational fishing                                                                         
FADs are used to attract bait fish and then in turn other species to the area, the fishing boat then uses a purse-seine to capture the fish. FAD’s can be very simple (like a group of logs) or very sophisticated that not only incorporate GPS location but also sensors to identify the species and amount of fish under them, this make for a very effective operation that has a lower carbon footprint and is a lot more efficient than non-FAD fishing.
As long as we have some sort of input or output (preferably output i.e. quotas) controls FAD fishing should not be of concern to recreational fishing, as regardless of method the same amount will be removed from the system by commercial fishing, as the use of FAD’s dosnt increase the numbers of fish merely congregate more of them into one area, so the primary concern is by-catch.
It is always desirable to minimise the impact of by-catch with any fishing technique, but I think we need to be realistic, non-target tuna account for 0.2% of the catch and bill fish account for 0.05% of the catch, this sill amounts to a few fish in the big picture but I think they are pretty low figures to start with, but like I said I am still happy to see improvements on them.

It’s interesting to note that the use of FAD’s by the tuna purse-seine fleets was an initiative by Greenpeace and Greenpeace foundation (Greenpeace foundation is a separate group to Greenpeace) in the 1980’s, in the dolphin safe campaign. What used to happen before FAD’s was that the fishing vessels would use dolphins on the surface as an indicator for where the tuna which are deeper in the water Colum, thus dolphins would be caught in the process. Now most canned tuna brands are labelled dolphin safe as this method is not used anymore, I suspect that in the years to come Greenpeace will be running a campaign to ban the use of live bait fish in line and pole tuna fisheries.

Looking at the figures, shows that there has been little increase in line and pole fishing since the Greenpeace campaign started, more likely it has been a case of the line and pole fishery reacting to this campaign and simply marketing the line and pole range to western countries, instead of it going to traditional markets.
Fad free Purse-seine fishing

FAD free purse-seine fishing has a lower by-catch rate than fishing using FAD’s, although it is far less efficient, as this method requires the vessel to basically search feeding surface schools of tuna, not only is their time on the water less efficient but as there is nothing to hold the fish in that area and each shot of the net produces far less fish, for this reason the carbon footprint of FAD free purse-seine fishing is much greater than with using FAD’s

Line and pole fishing
Line and pole fishing is essentially two types of fishing, bait collection in inshore/reef areas and an offshore tuna fishery, the live bait fish are used to keep the tuna in a frenzy near the boat while they are caught using line and pole methods, estimated figures show that for every 6-7 kg of tuna caught 1 kg of bait fish are used, currently line and pole fishing accounts for less than 7% of the canned tuna market and its estimated that up to 48,000 ton of bait fish are used to catch this amount of tuna.
It must be remembered that the Margiris was going to harvest 18,000 ton of bait fish from a much larger area.
Indonesia and the Maldives account for the largest line and pole fishing fleets, Indonesia having 232 vessels and taking 66,000 ton of tuna and the Maldives with 1000 vessels and 110,000 ton of tuna, with Japan with a fleet of 96 vessels, USA 60 vessels and Spain with 52, apart from the Senegal with 9 vessels all other countries have less than 4. The Japanese line and pole flee, sources locally caught bait, but fish for the tuna in different waters, using the live bait fish from a foreign areas, there has already been some evidence of this practise has resulting introducing new specie to the area, although again no research has been done on the effects of this. Japanese companies had established through various arrangements substantial pole-and-line tuna fishing presence in several Pacific Island countries, including Papua New Guinea (1970), Solomon Islands (1971), and Fiji (1976), Palau in 1964, supporting eight to 15 pole-and-line vessels, just to name a few.

There are fears that further expanding the pole-and-line fishery would see a lack of or unavailability of live bait. Today about 15% more bait is required per day compared 20 years ago. Currently there is little or no management of the bait fishery in these areas, and there has been no assessment of the impact that increasing this demand on bait will have on the species, other species that rely on them for food, indigenous users or recreational fishers. Further problems with the line and pole method require a consistent supply of bait fish, which isn’t always available due to seasonal fluctuations or environmental factors.
Line and pole fishing in the Maldives is a major economical earner for them. The success of this fishery depends in turn on the availability of live bait. Live bait, are therefore the most important reef fish resource in the Maldives. Major management issues include live bait habitat destruction by coral mining, black coral collecting and as a result of live bait collection itself, have reportedly negative effects of reef fish, as well as the use of SCUBA diving gear and lights for live bait collection. There has been no concerted stock assessment, so the status of the Maldivian live bait resource is poorly known, broader management issues include localised depletion of bait fish, the by-catch of other species as well as introduced species,

The Maldivian live bait fishery is a multispecies one. Small species (i.e. about 3-10 cm in length) that school close to reefs are targeted. Maniku (1989) looked into the by-catch in the bait fishery in the Maldives and report that the by-catch account for up to 30% of the catch, and Anderson (2009) in a more recent study based on 4 year sampling data found a low by-catch level on average but concluded that large by-catches were taken on rare occasions and that this amount needed to be quantified.

The Maldives has an excellent fisheries statistics system for tuna catches, but not for live bait utilization, there has been no live bait stock assessment in the Maldives, no assessment of by-catch issues using lights at night for this fishery, and only rudimentary investigation into quantifying harvest numbers and by-catch issues, the status of live bait stocks is unknown. Other pole and line bait fisheries have even less information or management, which is quite concerning.
There have been very few studies addressing the issue of by-catch in these bait fisheries in general, Rawlinson (1989) found that a number of large predator species where caught as by-catch in the Solomon Island bait fishery and concluded that although the number were low as a percentage, totals over a whole season in a heavily fished bait fishery area could be sizable and potentially damaging to the food fishery.

With a little gentle persuasion from myself Greenpeace has now backed away from advocating a 100% line and pole fishery for canned tuna, they have publicly admitted that if the canned tuna industry was to move to a 100% line and pole it would not only not be effective but not sustainable, getting them to push for greater management controls over these live bait fisheries has been another issue altogether as it contradicts their John West campaign.
Although their advocacy the message is somewhat confusing, and the majority of their supporters have a very poor understanding of the issue and most are still of the opinion that the most sustainable canned tuna industry is one that is 100% line and pole fishing, and that the harvesting of skip jack tuna is unsuitable, regardless of method used.

From the John West perspective

For a company that controls a large percentage of the canned tuna industry it’s not that simple for them to move away from FAD fishing, John West does not own fishing boats that catch tuna for their canned tuna range they simply source the tuna from the fish markets, from a company like John West to move to FAD free fishing these fisheries need to be able to identify FAD free tuna right through the entire supply chain, and this takes time, hence the 2015 time frame. For companies that have a much smaller market share it is much easier as they can purchase their limited supply directly from small commercial fishing businesses in the area, thus they can have a 100% FAD free or line and pole product.

John West is the only Australian canned tuna company to have an agreement in place with the WWF or any similar organisation.  John West is now also investigating my claims with the line and pole fishery to ensure their line and pole range is not having a negative impact due to the harvesting of the live bait for this method.

The tuna fishing industry provides a cheap source of food to a large amount of people, overall the main targeted species is Skip Jack Tuna, a fast growing quickly producing abundant species, perfect for a sustainable food source that has a very low impact on the environment when compared to other food sources, research has shown that our terrestrial farming practises are having a far greater impact on our marine environment than sustainable commercial fishing, and even with the by-catch figures quoted by Greenpeace, it is still having less environmental impact on other species than terrestrial farming, remembering that they are not clearing the habitat to grow our mono crops, are not using fertilizers to increase their yield or pesticides to destroy native species.


As you can see with the figures quoted above the use of FAD or FAD free fishing will have no major impact on recreational anglers either way as long as there are input or output controls on the fishery to ensure the targeted species is not fished beyond a sustainable level, as the by-catch rates are well below the natural mortality of the species that concern us. On the other hand the harvesting of bait fish for line and pole fishing could have very detrimental effects for recreational fishing, not just for recreational anglers venturing to explore the recreational fishing in other countries, but also for our local pelagic fishery, this is highlighted by the fact that our Southern Blue Fin Tuna spawning ground in Indonesia is in one of the largest line and pole fishing grounds, the very area the bait fish are harvested for the line and pole fishery. Any detrimental effect on this bait fishery could have major implications for our recreational Southern Blue Fin fishery, and considering that this species is in the recovery stage, there is a real danger that any reduction in numbers will simply be blamed on either the commercial or recreational catch of this species, I would like to see some investigation in to what possible impact the line and pole bait fishery near the SBT spawning ground has had on past SBT declining numbers.
Recreational anglers must be vocal in condemning any increase in line and pole fishing for the canned tuna industry as well as advocating for the implementation of some sort of management plan for the bait fishery for this technique, we must insist on research to evaluate what current impact this practise is having on species like the SBT, regardless if it’s on our back door or somewhere far away. We must show responsible leadership in the face of campaigns such as this Greenpeace one, that could not only be detrimental to what we do but the ecosystem as a whole, the bait fish are at the start of the marine food chain, not only do so many species rely on them but, these bait fish are in the range of recreational anglers, and local fishers. These are the very areas that are at greatest risk at the moment, as they are being affected by the things we do on our land far more than other areas.

Our peak recreational bodies need to speak out, so anglers are educated about the possible impacts, and don’t blindly support a campaign like this one from Greenpeace or anyone else, thinking that they are doing the right thing.

Greenpeace changes the world again

Well it appears that the Greenpeace campaign has been a tremendous success, well according to Greenpeace that is, the truth be told, nothing has changed, John West has all along said that it has a commitment as well as an agreement with WWF to ensure that all its fishing is sustainable by 2015, and that in the event that gear modifications its working on with WWF, fail to yield the desired results it will cease to source FAD caught tuna by 2015, I suspect that the small opposition to the Greenpeace campaign, using sound argument, research and science has helped in Greenpeace finding a solution to the issue, the sad part is that the overwhelming majority of Greenpeace supporters are more akin to religious fanatics, who have blind faith in the Greenpeace organisation. This is what we are up against, the details and facts are not important when you have an emotive photo to plaster all over the place.      


  1. Hi Daniel,
    Congratulations for the work you have done on the above. The time and effort you put it is amazing. I hope fishos take the time to read your information and comment. One day when the blue fin tuna evaporate again people will realize that you must have bait fish at the bottom of the chain.

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  3. One of the best informative, balanced, articles on this subject, thank you for your effort.