Pacific Bluefin Tuna and California’s fisheries – looking ahead

The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission’s (“IATTC”) Science Advisory Committee (“SAC”) will be meeting in La Jolla this week (May 9 – 13).  One of the topics up for discussion is Pacific bluefin tuna: updated assessment and management.  For California’s recreational and commercial fishermen, the 2014 stock assessment update for Pacific bluefin tuna (“PBF”) had profound impacts.

  • Recreational fishermen saw their daily limit reduced to two fish per day with a trip limit of six for trips three-days in length or longer in US waters. Mexico initially banned the take of PBF in their waters; but have since adopted limits which mirror those imposed by the US.
  • Commercial fishermen, who had been assured access to at least 500 metric tons (“mt”) per year, saw a quota imposed which reduced landings to a combined 600 mt for the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

These reductions were the direct result of actions taken by the IATTC in response to the 2014 stock assessment update.  That update found (1) the biomass of pacific bluefin was at an extremely low fraction of its unexploited biomass (around 4.2%); (2) it was highly depleted and (3) experiencing overfishing.  IATTC Resolution C-14-06[1] included conservation measures designed to achieve a reduction in catches of 20% to 45% to address these findings.

A new stock assessment for PBF is scheduled to be finalized and published later in 2016.  In advance of the SAC meeting, the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (“ISC”) provided a Draft Executive Summary of the 2016 Pacific Bluefin Stock Assessment[2] (“Executive Summary”). IATTC staff, using the Draft Executive Summary, prepared a document for the SAC meeting entitled Updated Assessment and Management of Pacific Bluefin Tuna[3] (“IATTC Document”).

What do these documents show and should California’s recreational and commercial fishermen be worried about further reductions?

The 2016 Stock Assessment

A full analysis of how the biomass for PBF is estimated is beyond the scope of this document.  Having said that, we think a brief primer on how the stock assessment works is in order.  In short, it is based on a computer model which uses catch per unit of effort and length-composition data from a number of PBF fisheries throughout the Pacific[4] as inputs[5].  Also accounted for are assumptions regarding natural mortality and hypothetical recruitment scenarios.  After the information is input, the model produces an estimate for both total biomass and that portion of the total capable of reproducing – spawning stock biomass (“SSB”).

The 2016 stock assessment is being touted as an improved assessment model which is much better than the previous models; but is still thought to be problematic in terms of rebuilding projections.   The Executive Summary makes the following statement, “In this assessment, the ratio of spawning stock biomass *  *  * relative to the theoretical unfished biomass * * * is 2.6%.”[6]  This is less than the 4.2% figure from the 2014 stock assessment update; and would support the idea that further management measures are necessary.  However, if we delve deeper into the documents mentioned above, we see a glimmer of hope.

After giving the 2.6% value, the Executive Summary offers a comparison to the 4.2% number taken from the 2014 update. “Although the [ratio] for this assessment (2.6%) is lower that the [ratio] from the 2014 assessment (4.2%) this is due to the changes in the model assumptions because SSB gradually increased in the last four years and does not represent a decline in SSB from 2012 – 2014.”[7]  In short, it is likely that the 2.6% value currently under consideration by the ISC may represent an increase over what the 2014 value would have been had the current stock assessment methods been in use.

In December of 2015, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (“WCPFC”) adopted Conservation and Management Measure 2015-04 which stated an initial goal of rebuilding the SSB (of PBF) to the historical median (42,592 t) within 10 years with at least 60% probability[8].  The stock is still overfished and subject to overfishing; but is projected to meet the WCPFC mandate under current management actions.  This would support a decision by the IATTC to not impose further restrictions on California’s PBF fisheries.  The document prepared by IATTC staff offers a somewhat different view.  Based on uncertainty in terms of how recruitment is related to spawning stock biomass and the small number of individuals that comprise the spawning stock biomass, “it is recommended that further action be taken to protect the spawning population.”[9]

What further action(s)

When contemplating how management measures may impact PBF, we need to be mindful of the impacts the various fisheries have on the stock.  The following two graphs show landings of PBF by Country and then by gear type:

Catch by Country


Catch by Gear type.png

Figures taken from Executive Summary, page 2.

In 2014, US Commercial vessels landed a total of 404 mt[10] while California commercial passenger-carrying fishing vessels were thought to have landed 27,321 fish with an estimated tonnage of 423.5 mt[11][12].  By comparison, the other fisheries (by nation) informing the stock assessment reported landings as follows:  Japan – 9,604 mt; Korea – 1,311 mt; Taiwan – 483 mt; Mexico – 4,862 mt; Australia and New Zealand – 12.[13]  Total reported landings of PBF for 2014 was 17,076 of which the US accounted for less than 5%.

It is generally accepted that PBF spawn only in the Western North Pacific Ocean (“WPO”) and that a portion of juvenile PBF make trans-Pacific migrations to the Eastern North Pacific Ocean (“EPO”), spending up to several years of its juvenile life stage here before returning to the WPO.  Last summer, when larger PBF were taken in the EPO, fishery biologists searched for evidence of spawning in the EPO but none of the fish studied showed signs of sexual maturity (ie – roe or sperm).

As to relative impacts on the stock – when comparing fisheries in the WPO to those in the EPO – the Executive Summary makes the following statement, “Historically, the WPO coastal fisheries group has had the greatest impact on the PBF stock, but since about the early 1990s the WPO purse seine fleets, in particular those targeting small fish (age 0-1), have had a greater impact, and the effect of these fleets in 2014 was greater than any of the other fishery groups. The impact of the EPO fishery was large before the mid-1980s, decreasing significantly thereafter. The WPO longline fleet has had a limited effect on the stock throughout the analysis period (Figure 7). This is because the impact of a fishery on a stock depends on both the number and size of the fish caught by each fleet; i.e., catching a high number of smaller juvenile fish can have a greater impact on future spawning stock biomass than catching the same weight of larger mature fish.”  See Executive Summary Page 9.


We have already seen some conservation groups highlighting the 2.6% and how it shows further decline in the status of PBF.  As discussed above, the 4.2% figure from the 2014 stock assessment update would be lower if calculated using the proposed 2016 stock assessment methodologies.  The Executive Summary notes that “the decline in SSB appears to have ceased since 2010, although the stock remains near the historic low”.

If we are to assume the goal is to comply with the WCPFC’s 2015 Conservation and Management Measure of having a 60% probability of rebuilding the SSB of PBF by 2024, then no additional restrictions are necessary on California’s PBF fisheries (commercial and recreational).  The Executive Summary concludes with the following statement, “Under all examined scenarios the initial goal of WCPFC, rebuilding to SSBMED by 2024 with at least 60% probability, is reached and the risk of SSB falling below Bloss at least once in 10 years was very low.”  If, however, we are facing an unstated goal with loftier ambitions, our fisheries may be asked to contribute more to the rebuilding efforts.

We also must consider the international aspect of this stock.  While it would be easy to point the finger at the fisheries operating in the WPO, those fisheries have been very good at convincing the international fishery management organizations (IATTC and WCPFC) that restrictions need to be implemented wherever PBF are targeted and landed.  It will be incumbent upon US representatives to those Commissions to keep the relative small impact US vessels have on the PBF stock in mind as they negotiate proposed management measures.  California based commercial and recreational fishermen; and the coastal communities that benefit from and rely upon those fisheries, should not be used as pawns in a larger game.


[1] See –

[2] See –

[3] See –

[4] A total of 16 Fleets were defined for use in the 2016 stock assessment model based on country/gear/season/region stratification.  Thee Fleets are:  (1) Japanese longline; (2) Japanese small pelagic fish purse seine fishery in the East China Sea; (3) : Korean offshore large purse seine; (4) Japanese tuna purse seine fishery in the Sea of Japan; (5) Japanese tuna purse seine fishery off the Pacific coast of Japan; (6) Japanese troll; (7) Japanese pole and line; (8 – 10)  Japanese set-net fisheries; (11) Japanese other fisheries – mainly small-scale fisheries in the Tsugaru Strait; (12) Taiwanese longline fishery; (13) Eastern Pacific Ocean commercial purse seine of USA; (14) Eastern Pacific Ocean commercial purse seine of Mexico; (15) Eastern Pacific Ocean sports fishery; and (16) Japanese troll fishery for farming.

[5] If you really want an in-depth overview of the inputs to the 2016 Stock Assessment – see the ISC Pacific Bluefin Working Group’s document entitled, Input data of Pacific bluefin tuna fisheries for stock assessment model, Stock Synthesis 3; Update for 2016 assessment, accessible at

[6] See Page 8 of Executive Summary

[7] Ibid

[8] See Page 2 –

[9] See Page 4 of IATTC Doc


[11] See – (page 1)

[12] For 2015, US Commercial vessels landed a total of 96.1 mt and CA CPFVs are estimated to have landed 21,062 PBF.

[13] See Table 1 beginning on Page 15 of the Input data of Pacific bluefin tuna fisheries for stock assessment model, Stock Synthesis 3; Update for 2016 assessment at


Alternate Safety Compliance Programs

Amendments made to 46 USC §4503 by the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2010 will require certain fishing vessels, fish processing vessels or fish tender vessels comply with alternate safety compliance programs.

What vessels are covered?

Vessels that are (A) at least 50 feet overall in length[1]; (B) built before July 1, 2012; and (C) 25 years of age or older.


A vessel built before July 1, 2012 and undergoes a substantial change to the dimension of or type of vessel completed after the date the Secretary establishes standards for an alternate safety compliance program.  This is being referred to as the “major conversion” requirement.  See 46 USC §4503 –

Now that we know which vessels are covered, what is an alternate safety compliance program?

In short, it is a vessel compliance program for US-based commercial fishing vessels.  There will be some requirements which will apply without regard to which fishery you participate in or geographic region your vessel operates.  For example – all vessels are, and will continue to be, required to carry adequate safety equipment.  There may be regional and/or fishery specific differences depending on hazards and/or how a fishery is prosecuted.  For example, de-icing equipment- which is necessary to guard against a hazard in Alaska and parts of northern New England,  would not be a necessity off California.  West coast pole and line albacore vessels will likely have different requirements than west coast fixed gear fisheries based upon gear types and how they fisheries are prosecuted.  ASCPS are designed to be a safety agreement between commercial fishing vessels and the USCG.  Particulars of the program will be set forth in regulations under Part 28 of 46 CFR.

Why is this being done?

In short, safety.  As mentioned, the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act of 2010 created these programs.  In general, the older the vessel, the more likely it is to experience a catastrophic event. While the Coast Guard does not have authority to require inspection of commercial fishing vessels, it does have the authority to examine these vessels to ensure compliance with safety standards.  Standards to ensure a well-maintained fleet of vessels and application of equivalent safety standards on older and modified commercial fishing vessels are needed to improve safety of the vessel. Construction and maintenance standards have been needed for some time and had never been fully addressed in either the law or regulations.

What is the “Matrix” and how was it developed?

The Matrix is a graduated list of proposed items to be considered by regional working groups to reduce risks in their particular region or with particular fleets.  See for the most current version of the Martix.  Yes, it is daunting; but it needs to be looked at.  We will discuss this in greater detail below.

If these aren’t required until 2020, why are we talking about it now?

It is envisioned that these programs will vary depending on fishery and geographic location of a specific fishery.  The USCG is reaching out to commercial fishers and commercial fishing groups in an attempt to tailor these programs to specific fisheries and geographic locations.  The goal of these programs is to increase safety to fishermen.  The USCG has been required to develop and define these programs by 2017 to give vessel owners/operators sufficient time to make any necessary modifications before these programs go into effect in 2020.

What does this all mean?

We were present at a recent meeting and were given a presentation on these programs.  The Powerpoint provided closely mirrored this one –  During the presentation, we were informed that if your overall length borders on 50 feet, you should plan on having to comply (in other words, they will go out of their way to find a measurement which exceeds the 50-foot threshold).  Note – if you participate in more than one fishery and those fisheries have different requirements under their particular program, you will be required to comply with the more stringent program.  For example, if you have a HMS permit with authorizes you to fish pole-and-line for tunas and you also have a Dungeness Crab Permit, you would have to comply with the requirements for the Dungeness Crab Fishery if they are more strict than those decided upon for your pole-and-line fishery.

How can I participate?

The USCG is scheduling hearings/workshops on these programs.  An event took place in Westport, Wa on April 28 and another is scheduled for May 4 in Half Moon Bay.  “Fishermen and representatives of fishing organizations are encouraged to participate in either of the two meetings * * * and provide input to help shape effective and efficient safety standards.”  We assume similar hearings/workshops are taking place in other parts of the Country.  Best to check with your local Coast Guard District office for additional information.

Looking more closely at the October 30, 2015 Draft Matrix.

I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to read through this and comprehend what is being asked.  “The matrix is designed to be a starting point and is not all inclusive. It is desired to keep programs as standard as possible while allowing flexibility to address regional and fishery-specific risks, as well as considering regional limitations.”

Some of the items contained in the Matrix apply in all areas and to all fisheries, while others are regionally based (typically based on the Coast Guard District you are operating in) and/or fishery based.  As a reminder – California is in District 11, Oregon and Washington in District 13, Alaska in District 17 and Hawaii in District 14.  Fisheries within a particular District can have different requirements based on special hazards and/or higher risks associated with that fishery.

The Draft Matrix begins on Page 11.  Remember – this is only a draft.  These are the types of things you should be thinking about as you read through the proposed requirements.

Requirement Things to Consider
Risk Evaluation and Casualty Review

NIOSH is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health[2]

1.       Evaluate marine casualties

2.       Evaluate risks (measured and unmeasured)

3.       Prioritize job hazards





2.  Once such unmeasured risk would be fatigue.



1.       Decal/COC

2.       ASCP Endorsement

3.       Multiple fishery compliance

4.       Random Drug/Alcohol testing





4. Could this mirror program(s) implemented for CPFV fleets.

Methods to reduce fatalities from falls overboard

1.       Written policy re use of PFDs

2.       Fishing Co administrative controls

3.       Increase effectiveness of drills

4.       Recovery devices

5.       Safe means of embarking/disembarking

6.       Railing & Bulwark height

7.       Slip prevention

8.       Personal locator beacons/MOB alarm

9.       Tethering other MOB prevention

10.    Self-Rescue



2. PFDs on deck restrict maneuverability




6. Told this was unlikely




10. Solo operations (light boats)


1.       Stability verification

2.       Stability instructions

3.       Stability instructions compliance

4.       Operational limitations

5.       High capacity AUTOMATIC bilge pumps

6.       Best practices notice

7.       Admin controls to avoid icing

Note – this is highly unlikely

1. I can see shifting loads in a hatch being problematic



4. Cp loads when crossing a bar vs calm of So Cal Bight

5. Define high capacity


7. Let’s hope this is never an issue

Watertight and Watertight Integrity

1.       General

2.       Doors at deck level

3.       All weathertight/watertight closures

4.       Hatches

5.       Down flooding points

6.       Vents

7.       Below deck watertight doors, hatches, etc

8.       Sea and Overboard valves

9.       Written Instructions

10.    Pre-departure checks/logs


1. Costly???




5. Is downflooding an issue

6. Will this require modifications on many vessels


8. Will PVC be an approved material


10. Are we “at high risk of flooding/capsizing”?

Lifesaving Equipment & Arrangements

1.       EPIRBs upgraded to GPIRBs

2.       Liferafts

3.       Immersion suits lights


1. Plan on this

2. Cold water defined as < 59 degrees

3. See above

Drydock and Internal Structural Exam – note requirement re wood vessels

1.       Hull exam

2.       Examine

3.       Sea chests

4.       Sea and Overboard Valves

5.       Sea Strainers

6.       Valves for Emergency bilge suction

7.       Tail-shaft and rudder

Unless you own a wood vessel, I cant imagine this being problematic








Machinery Systems

1.       Piping and Valves

2.       Fuel System

3.       Remote Fuel shutoffs

4.       Sight gauges

5.       Preventative Maintenance Log

6.       Visual Exam of Vital System Piping

7.       Electrical Systems








7. Any appeal process or is Inspector’s discretion all?

Fire Prevention and Mitigation

1.       Fire safety hazard survey

2.       Where applicable and appropriate

3.       Non-combustible insulation

4.       Guards and Exposed Hazards

5.       Fuel tank vents

6.       Smoke detectors

7.       Deck water/fire pump – if installed

8.       Portable fire/dewatering pump

9.       Required fixed fire fighting systems?

10.    Minimum requirements re fixed firefighting

11.    Best practices re fire prevention and control

12.    Fire and safety plan

13.    Structural fire protection



2. Is this practicable?












Crew and Deck Safety

1.       Specific to gear type

2.       New crew orientation and training

3.       Freon and refrigerant detectors

4.       CO2/Halon detection systems

5.       Confined space entry procedures

6.       Self-contained Breathing Apparatus

7.       Slip/Trip/Fall Prevention and Protection

8.       Winch/drum protection

9.       Crane and Boom Safety

10.    AED, Medical Oxygen and Training

11.    Lock out Tag out procedures




3. What is adequate ventilation?


5. Any common hazardous gases?

6. Comments needed


8. Pay attention to this one.




Diving Safety

1.       Diving Safety



Emergency Drills and Training

1.       Required # of qualified drill conductors

2.       Record keeping

3.       Communications


1. If between 6 and 12 crew – need 2



Methods to combat fatigue

1.       Crew endurance plan and training

2.       Install watch alarms




Collision Avoidance

1.       Blind sectors

2.       Radar proximity alarms

3.       AIS


1. Navigation Rule 5[3]

2. Given where you operate, high likelihood of use?

3. Already required if > 65 feet.



[1] This will generally be “A few feet longer than the registered length” – See slide 4 of

[2] NIOSH website on Commercial Fishing Safety on the West Coast –

[3] § 83.05 Every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision.