MIMRA engages in the big picture of the tuna industry

Tuna being transferred from the purse seiner Jin Hui 9 to transshipment vessel Yun Run 1

The dramatic increase in revenue from the commercial tuna fishery in the region is what most people see when they look at the Pacific’s tuna fishery. Behind the revenue gain of the past several years is an equally significant increase in engagement by MIMRA in all aspects of the tuna fishery.
This engagement requires MIMRA Oceanic Division staff to:
  • Manage statistical data for domestic and regional fisheries reporting requirements
  • Manage the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) for both purse seine and longline vessels
  • Train fisheries observers, dispatch fisheries observers on fishing vessels and debrief them on return, ensure 100 percent observer coverage of purse seine fishing trips and tuna transshipment in Majuro Atoll
  • Increase independent verification of catches on longline vessels • Promote local participation in the commercial tuna fishery
  • Manage arrangements with locally-based fish processing plants and Marshall Islands-flagged or registered vessels
  • Coordinate monitoring, control and surveillance programs with domestic and regional law enforcement partners
  • Participate in regional fisheries management organizations and international fisheries conferences to promote sustainability of the Pacific fishery.
MIMRA’s Oceanic Division is fully engaged in the many activities required to effectively manage fishing within the Marshall Islands’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It also works with regional and international organizations such as the Majuro-based PNA Office (PNAO), the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), and the Pacific Community (SPC) and their respective members to manage the western and central Pacific tuna fishery.
The Oceanic Division, in collaboration with the Legal Division, devotes a large portion of staff time to engagement with PNA in management of the VDS. It also works with FFA members on monitoring and enforcement of the regional fishery as well as coordinating with FFA members on policy proposals to submit to the WCPFC that governs fishing on the high seas.
The Oceanic Division works closely with SPC on data collection and analysis, and stock assessment activities. Additionally, the Division oversees monitoring and data collection of all purse seiners fishing in Marshall Islands waters, including the domestic fleet, and monitors to a limited extent longline vessels operating in the country’s EEZ.
The Division also engages with Marshall Islands Ports Authority, Marshall Islands Police Department’s Sea Patrol, Majuro Atoll Local Government Police, Marshall Islands Environmental Protection Authority and others involved in monitoring and enforcement of laws and regulations governing tuna transshipment operations in Majuro Port.

VDS impacts the purse seine fishery

PNA’s VDS is the most important management tool for the Pacific fishery. Through the VDS, PNA limits fishing days for the purse seine fishery to about 45,000 per year and maintains a minimum benchmark price of $8,000 per fishing day. Within this number, fishing days are allotted to each of the PNA members. In addition, the VDS system requires 100 percent fisheries observer coverage of all purse seiners fishing in the region, in-port transshipment for additional verification, annual moratoriums for use of fish aggregating devices (FADs), and other conservation and management measures.
The VDS is a management tool that allows PNA members to sustainably manage the vast tuna fishery in the western and central Pacific, while increasing revenue generated from the purse seine tuna fishery. The numbers speak for the revenue generating success of the VDS for PNA members. In 2012, MIMRA received $5,936,978 in VDS and fishing rights revenue. Five years later, in 2017, the amount increased 380 percent to $28,532,685 for the Marshall Islands. For all PNA members, they’ve seen VDS revenue rise from $60 million in 2010 to an estimated $470 million in 2017.

Although the EEZ of the Marshall Islands is on the fringe of the main tuna fishing zones in the western and central Pacific, the Marshall Islands has benefited by its membership in PNA. PNA’s revenue generation and sustainability initiatives demonstrate the economic and management power of this resource rights-based organization and the cooperative arrangement to control the fishery.

MIMRA operating and non-operating total revenue shows a similar increase. In 2012, the total operating and nonoperating revenue generated by MIMRA was $10,506,958. Five years later, in 2017, this figure jumped to $36,104,511, a 243 percent increase. The commercial fishery accounts for nearly all of this revenue. In addition to the VDS and fishing rights, other revenue is generated from the fishery through fishing licenses, transshipment fees, fishing violation fines, and observer fees. In addition, MIMRA’s joint venture purse seine vessel with Koo’s Fishing Company injects significant revenue annually.

Sales of fishing days under the VDS to purse seiners that are not Marshall Islands-flagged or based generated over $8,000 per day in 2017. Fishing days sold to Marshall Islands-flagged or based purse seiners were priced at either $5,000 or $6,000 each. Days not sold to various fishing companies were put into a regional “pool” that commanded a higher price, generating over $10,000 per fishing day sold.

The continuing expansion of fisheries revenue produced an all-time record in 2017 for MIMRA transfers to the national government for budget support. In 2017, fisheries revenue provided to the national government amounted to $40,129,700 — a 53 percent increase over the $26,285,938 provided the previous year.

Tuna transshipments and exports

The requirement of in-port transshipment of tuna for purse seiners operating in the western and central Pacific fishery has seen Majuro develop into the world’s biggest tuna transshipment hub. Although the number of transshipments was lower in 2017 than the previous year, transshipment activity was still strong.

There were 423 purse seine transshipments in Majuro Port in 2017 with a provisional total of 292,552 metric tons (mt) transshipped. Each of these tuna transshipments averaged 692mt. This compares to 573 transshipments in 2016 for 410,948 tons, an average of 717mt per transshipment. In 2017, Majuro Port averaged 35 tuna transshipments eachmonth.

The majority of the tonnage was skipjack tuna, which accounted for 223,419mt. A total of 63,161mt of yellowfin tuna and 5,972mt of bigeye tuna rounded out the total transshipped at 292,552mt. Additionally, most transshipments by the national purse seine fleet are carried out in Majuro, although at times other ports in the region are utilized.

Taiwan-flagged vessels accounted for the largest number of transshipments with 132 — 31 percent — of the total. These purse seiners transshipped 93,933mt tons of tuna. Taiwan purse seiners also accounted for the largest percentage of transshipments in 2016. China-flagged vessels were next with 72 transshipments for 48,059mt of tuna, followed by US-flagged purse seiners that conducted 60 transshipments with38,429mt of tuna.

Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesiaflagged vessels were the next largest users of Majuro Port with 48, 44 and 25 transshipments, respectively. Other purse seiners that used Majuro to transship in 2017 included Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Vanuatu, S. Korea, Philippines and Tuvalu.

Tuna transshipments in 2017 generated $596,000 in revenue for MIMRA, down from the 2016 transshipment revenue of $799,000.

MIMRA monitored almost 100 percent of the in-port transshipments in 2017 with Fisheries Officers or Fisheries Observers.

There is significant spinoff benefit to the Marshall Islands economy from these purse seine vessels and the carrier vessels that anchor in Majuro’s lagoon waiting for purse seiner transshipment. Crewmembers regularly buy from local retail and wholesale stores, and use restaurants, bars and hotels. The vessels often re-provision and refuel in Majuro, further benefiting the local economy.

With Pacific International Inc. opening its Majuro Net Yard in 2017, this now offers purse seiners the ability to repair their nets while in the fishing grounds, saving them long trips back to Asian or other ports for repairs. In 2017, the Majuro Net Yard provided services to 15 purse seiners, with heavier usage toward the second half of the year as fishing companies became aware of the newly opened facility.

In addition to purse seine vessel transshipments, MIMRA Fisheries Observers and Officers monitored almost all offloading of catches by the 31 longline vessels associated with the Marshall Islands Fishing Venture (MIFV), a Majuro-based company, in 2017. MIFV is a subsidiary of Luen Thai. The MIFV longline fleet off-loaded a provisional total of 4,067mt, most of it bound for export markets. Most of this total 3,410mt — was exported to markets in the US, China and Canada. Frozen fish (rejects and bycatch), designated as “Local,” are shipped to Asia via transport containers and/or sold locally. The Local portion accounted for 657mt in 2017. The 2017 total tuna tonnage offloaded by MIFV’s 31 longliners is slightly above the 3,826mt recorded in 2016.

The breakdown of the MIFV longline catch in 2017 was bigeye tuna 2,154mt and yellowfin tuna 1,495mt. Blue marlin, wahoo, mahi mahi, swordfish, sailfish and Opah accounted for the balance of tonnage.

In 2017, MIFV also purchased purse seine-caught fish, mostly whole frozen skipjack (1,777mt), which were included with container shipments destined for Asian markets.

The Pan Pacific Foods tuna loining plant in Majuro, which in 2017 had three Marshall Islands-flagged and two chartered purse seiners supplying tuna to it, exported 2,398mt of processed tuna loins. This was less tonnage than 2016, when PPF exported 3,132 processed tuna.

Tuna caught in RMI EEZ

The number of foreign fishing vessels licensed to fish in Marshall Islands EEZ increased for the second straight year  after a modest decline in 2015. Virtually all fleets showed small increases in the number of vessels licensed to fish in Marshall Islands waters. Not all vessels licensed were active in the Marshall Islands EEZ during 2017.

The number of purse seiners licensed to fish increased from 190 in 2016 to 192; longliners increased from 41 in 2016 to 49, and pole-and-line vessels went from 11 in 2016 to 16 in 2017. In total, 257 foreign flagged vessels were licensed to fish in Marshall Islands waters in 2017.

The biggest fleet was the FSM Arrangement purse seine vessels, which are domestically registered vessels in the Pacific Islands and by joining the FSM Arrangement gain multiple zone access. FSMA purse seine vessels registered totaled 76, the same as in 2016. The next largest fleet was Japan’s, a mix of purse seiners (25), pole-and-line vessels (16) and longliners (6). China had 36 vessels that included 30 longliners and six purse seiners. The United States licensed 31 purse seiners to fish in Marshall Islands waters in 2017, while Taiwan had 27 purse seiners and S. Korea had 26 purse seiners. FSM-flagged longliners accounted for 13 vessels and Tuvalu had one purse seiner.

The only fleets that reduced in 2017 compared to the previous year were US purse seiners, which dropped from 33 to 31, and Japan purse seiners, which declined from 30 to 25. All other increased or stayed the same from 2016.

Commercial catches within the Marshall Islands EEZ are taken predominantly by the purse seine fishery but longline and pole-and-line operations also occur. In 2017, estimated total catch for all types of commercial fishing combined was 26,383mt, with purse seine vessels accounting for 86 percent (22,707mt), followed by longline 14 percent (3,604mt), and pole-and-line less than one percent (72mt).

Catch tonnage for the three types of fishing vessels operating in Marshall Islands waters in 2017:
  • Purse seine catch in the Marshall Islands EEZ decreased significantly from the 78,767mt caught in 2016 to 22,707 in 2017. This year-to-year change primarily reflects environmental conditions affecting location of skipjack tuna. Higher catches are generally recorded during or immediately following strong El Niño periods — an El Niño began building in 2015 and peaked in the first half of 2016. Available logsheet data for purse seine fleets operating in the Marshall Islands EEZ show that Marshall Islands purse seine vessels accounted for 7,252mt — 32 percent — of the 22,707mt catch in 2017, followed by Taiwan vessels that brought in 6,759mt. US, Papua New Guinea, S. Korea, Kiribati, Japan and FSM vessels accounted for the rest of the purse seine catch in 2017.
  • Meanwhile, pole-and-line fishing by Japan vessels continued a three-year tonnage decline to 72mt, compared to 430mt in 2016. The short-term trend continues to show catch reduction between years. Skipjack has always been the main species making up the pole-and-line catch composition. From 2015 through 2017, skipjack accounted for 100 percent of the total tonnage caught. Japan is the only country using pole-and-line in Marshall Islands waters.
  • The 3,604mt longline catch in 2017 increased from the previous year’s 3,136mt. The domestically-based foreign longline fleet comprises vessels from China, FSM and previously Taiwan that are managed and operated under MIFV. These three accounted for most of the 3,604mt caught by longliners in 2017, with Marshall Islands-chartered vessels bringing in 2,379mt, FSM vessels 921mt, and Chinese vessels 7mt. Japan longline vessels, which offload their catch in Japanese ports, reported an additional 297mt of tuna caught in the Marshall Islands EEZ in 2017. Bigeye and yellowfin catches continued to account for the major part — 86 percent — of the target catch composition for longliners in 2017. In the purse seine fishery, most fishing takes place in the southern portion of the Marshall Islands EEZ. Longline fishing effort also occurs in the southern areas of the EEZ but is more widely distributed throughout the Marshall Islands zone.