Research and training on bycatch to protect marine life 

The Oceanic Fisheries Programme of the Pacific Community (SPC) provides training programs for fisheries officers, observers and others in the small island developing states (SIDS). This assists them with monitoring, recording and reporting bycatch. It also conducts research on bycatch that helps the nations of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean effectively manage the protection of species not intended to be caught.

Baseline research on bycatch

Ecological risk assessments identify the animals that are most vulnerable to being inadvertently caught during fishing. The most vulnerable are animals that interact more with the tuna targeted in fishing or with fishing vessels, and that also reproduce slowly. The most common ones are sharks, turtles, marine mammals, and seabirds.

Bycatch numbers vary with fishing methods. It is hard to get sufficient data on bycatch for methods of fishing where there are fewer official observers, but baseline research summarises what is known. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission makes bycatch data for the WCPO publicly available.

In the purse-seine fishery, about 12% (by weight) of the total catch is bycatch. Bycatch from fishing of free-swimming tuna is lower on average (1.0%) than bycatch from fishing using fish-aggregating devices, or FADs (2.0%). Dolphins are rarely encircled by purse seines in the WCPO; the most significant bycatch species are sharks. In 2017, SPC produced a report on bycatch in purse-seine fisheries for the years 20032016. SPCs Neville Smith provides an overview of the report (2.09 mins).

Rates of bycatch in the longline fishery are considerably higher, at around 30% of the total catch. However, much of this is retained bycatch (called byproduct), which has some commercial value.

Most sharks are caught in the longline fishery, with the purse-seine fishery estimated to catch only 23% of the total. Most of the WCPFCs designated key shark species they include shortfin mako, silky, oceanic whitetip, thresher, porbeagle, hammerhead, and whale sharks must be conserved, and action is occurring to reduce bycatch of these species.

Billfish continue to form a significant proportion of the non-target catch, but are mostly retained due to their commercial value.Seabird deaths due to longlines are very low in the tropical WCPO compared with deaths in higher latitudes, where albatrosses and petrels, in particular, are prone to becoming caught. But low observer coverage on many longline fleets means that the number of interactions is largely unknown.

Other research projects

The sustainable tuna fisheries part of the Common Oceans ABNJ Program includes a significant component on sharks. It centres on the Pacific, and is led by the WCPFC Secretariat. It ran until 2019.

Image of a J hook and circle hook used for pelagic fishing to prevent turtles and other non-target species from being hooked.
Simple changes in hook shape can mean that non-target species don’t become bycatch (CC BY-SA 3.0).