Pacific Island Seamounts - are they under threat?

11 May 2010 | News story

A 2-day workshop was held in Nadi on 28th and 29th April to discuss the impacts of longline fishing as well as other activities on seamounts in the Pacific Islands.

Participants from Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, met with experts from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Secretariat for the Pacific Community, (SPC), the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the South Pacific Geosciences Commission (SOPAC), The New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA) and the Global Census of Marine Life on Seamounts (CenSeam) to discuss the results of research conducted under the Oceanic Fisheries Management Project, and other regional initiatives. Fishing industry representatives from Tonga, Kiribati, and Fiji also attended.

Workshop organizer, Kelvin Passfield, from (IUCN) Oceania Regional Office based in Suva, said: “Seamounts in the deep Pacific Ocean are extremely important for the long line fishing which provides economic wealth to the Pacific Islands region. This workshop provided the first opportunity to discuss the results of a questionnaire survey of longline fishermen about their fishing activities around seamounts, which had been conducted in 2009.”

“The IUCN research showed that approximately 40% of all longline fishing effort undertaken in the vicinity of seamounts, especially when the fishermen are targeting yellowfin tuna.”

The workshop also provided an opportunity to compare results from this survey with detailed scientific analysis of fishermen’s logbook records which was undertaken in the same year by Secretariat for the Pacific Community (SPC), as well as hear of the database of seamount locations that has been prepared by SPC.

Participants also learnt of the potential for bottom trawling and seabed mining in the Pacific Islands region and of the ecological damage that these activities could cause to the fragile seamount ecosystems. They also learnt of how in most cases their Governments already had the legislative capacity within their Acts of Parliament to regulate these activities, and protect sensitive areas including seamounts within their EEZs, if there was the political will to do so.

Though the participants all agreed they had learned a great deal from the workshop they also agreed that despite the obvious importance of seamounts to fisheries in the Pacific, there is very little known about them, and they saw this workshop as a step in the right direction to remedy this situation.

The research carried out by IUCN and SPC are activities of the GEF funded Oceanic Fisheries Management Project.