testata inforMARE

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The Fishing Vessel market
in 2000


The tuna fish crisis
Tootfish sector

The environnement
Industrial and semi-industrial fishing

The year 2000 has been marked by several events which point to a gradual transformation within the fishing sector. The continuing tuna crisis has pricked the conscience throughout the industry (owners, canning factories, national and international authorities) for the need to regulate the market. Buffeted by the recurring crises of oversupply and important illicit catches still occurring in certain regions, the sector seems at last prepared to make a concerted effort.

This reaction is all the more justified in that access to resources, given the depletion and the protection of numerous species, will become tighter.

Unlike the tuna, some sectors with a high added value such as the toothfish are experiencing a market resurgence. Toothfish that are caught using longliners is by nature much more selective and allows a superior quality to be produced. Doubtless it is in this direction that the tuna fish sector should be able to find a solution, given that there is an increasing demand for fresh fish from consumers.

tuna prices

The tuna fish crisis


This is the worst situation the industry has faced in the last 25 years with stocks of tinned and frozen tuna still increasing following the high level of catches going back to 1999. Even though the "mad cow" disease has meant that beef consumption has dropped dramatically in supermarkets, there has not been a noticeable increase towards tuna as a substitute. Concerning prices, following the poor state of the market during 1999 the first quarter of 2000 saw levels rise to $750 per tonne in Bangkok which was an increase of some 50 %.

During the second quarter, the big catches had the effect of depressing levels down to $400 per tonne in May. This in turn led to a rise in canning factories� stocks and encouraged buyers to hold back in anticipation of further price reductions.

To add salt to the wound, zones of fishing were extended in South America and in particular Ecuador, a traditional tuna producer, with limits as far the Galapagos. This resulted in an Ecuador tuna seiner catch of 197,000 tons in 1999 compared to 117,000 tons in 1998. This increase was helped by the General System of Preferences which allows Ecuadorian fish to be imported into Europe without any customs duty. Export of tuna cuts without any duty originating from Ecuador and Colombia into Spain and particularly Italy is competing and pushing out deliveries of whole frozen tuna at the expense of European shipowners.

There was an improvement in prices during the third quarter which stayed around $400 per ton C&F. They even dropped down to $380, and even as low as $350 in the fourth quarter, which translated to a price well below cost of $200-250 per ton to shipowners. The wholesale price of tinned tuna has been hit throughout the year by considerable discounts offered by Asian canners to stimulate exports, which were only partially passed through to the retail prices by the big distributors.

In 1999, the catches broke all records, with nearly 4 million tons worldwide, compared to 3.6 million in 1998 and 3.4 million in 1997. During 2000 less tuna was put onto the market, mainly because of lack of buying interest, with reduced activity especially from the Asian canners. The introduction of �slow fishing� from a number of countries, as well as Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) decision to prohibit fishing around wrecks as from September 15th, 2000 and the fishing of yellowfish as from December 15th to the end of the year, will also have an effect on quantities supplied.

The practice of "slow fishing" consists in refrigerated tuna freeze seiners remaining in dock for a period of 15-45 days, fully crewed, before setting out on a new trip, which has the effect of reducing their effective fishing time. This policy was first applied in the western Pacific by the Americans, for the majority of their 38 ships, which it should be remembered are mainly big jumboized vessels (lengthened from 70 to 90 meters, and with a carrying capacity increased from 1,100 to 1,600 tons of tuna). In November 2000, it was agreed that they would remain in dock until February 2001, and thereafter observe a 21-day rest at the start of each new tide. The canner Star-Kist is scheduled to rest up his 8 ships until April 2001.

Likewise, as from last December, other countries have brought in measures to reduce their fishing time, either due to "slow fishing" or to more restrictive catch quotas. Countries in this category are: Taiwan, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Ecuador, Spain, and France.

One of the other concerns of tuna fishing is research to find a way to prevent the netting of dolphins, which has become a sensitive cause taken up by consumers and nature lovers. Already in 1992 protective measures were introduced which were reinforced in 1997 with quota restrictions.

Tuna have the habit in the Eastern Pacific to travel with dolphins and to swim underneath them. Despite the best intents, dolphins are often involuntarily caught with the tuna and die of suffocation. Another characteristic of tuna fishing in the tropics is the positioning of artificial ship wrecks where the tuna shoals congregate especially the young and which are then easily located thanks to satellite systems.

Steps which are being taken both as regards the prohibiting of catching dolphins as well as the restrictions being placed on the introduction of artificial wrecks both in the Eastern Pacific as well as the Atlantic, should bring some relief to the general market deterioration.

We can only hope that despite prices being at their lowest for 25 years (excluding the dollar exchange impact) that these measures will help restore a more healthy market.

As to newbuilding orders in France, this situation is stationary, with only the delivery of the �Cap Saint Vincent� and the �Sterenn� for the GIE France Thon, built by Piriou shipyards at Concarneau. Additionally very few transactions took place on the second-hand market.

The sector is moving towards greater concentration; the takeover of Saupiquet, by Trinity Alimentari (a subsidiary of The Bolton Group, Netherlands) announced in 1999 was concluded this year and the latter are now looking to buy out P�che et Froid, which would make them the European leader in the canning industry.

Spain has been able to preserve and strengthen its tuna activity due to some specific measures such as European subsidies , the assistance of Spanish autonomous regions and the exemption of death duties for family businesses. This allows Spain to keep the largest European fleet with 55 tuna ships in service, helped also by the lowest paid crew costs. The main Spanish owners and canners are the Calvo Group, Las Conservas Garavila, Albacora and Jealsa.

In conclusion, the measures and changes outlined above, while positive factors should not hide the fact that for as long as production continues to be based on frozen pickled tuna and then canned, the root of the depression remains untouched.

It is necessary to switch production on a permanent basis towards tuna fishing based on longliners to catch quality species and either make short trips to deliver ashore fresh frozen tuna which correctly treated (bled or gutted) can be kept up to 21 days, or longer trips to produce tuna frozen at very low temperatures (-50�C or even -70�C). Fresh tuna is a choice dish in the form of steaks or filets, while frozen it is highly appreciated in Japan already for sashimi which allows the existing fleet to continue to supply the canning factories.

 63.70 m, built 2000 by Piriou - Operated by GIE France Thon


Tootfish sector


In contrast to tuna, the toothfish sector continues to enjoy a prosperous period, helped in particular by important sales at high prices into Japan and the US markets where it goes by the name of "blue gold".

Fishing is carried out in extremely difficult waters and which first started with French shipowners using foreign vessels in the longliner category on bareboat charter. However, a number of these orders have been confirmed this year within the context of the "Pons" legislation by commissioning through various bodies, Sapmer, Mascareignes, Reunion, Le Garrec, la Comata, etc.

All these vessels have been placed with the Piriou shipyards of Concarneau of longliner class and fitted with the most modern equipment.

These units which will have to fish within their allotted quotas, will be environmentally friendly whether in respect to nature and birds or in respect to the size of the dragnet used to avoid catching the young and small.

The volume of orders should also ensure a French presence in the distant region of Kerguelen where all the vessels have been placed under the French flag. Slowly but surely, month by month, year by year, the pirates that up till now have raided this region unmolested, will have increasing difficulties to remain in these out-of-bounds zones.

This fish is highly prized for its particularly tender and white fresh flesh. Its first appearance was on the US market in 1991 and today is a sought-after commodity that has had an unparalleled success with an unending price rise. The same is true on the Japanese market where it achieved an astronomical price of US$10,000 per ton.

France controls two important fishing zones in the Indian Ocean which for the moment remain under-exploited or else regretfully infested by the bandits.

One can ask the question as to what the French authorities are doing, but it is worth remembering that the Crozet Islands are more than 2,800 km from La Reunion and that the only ship capable of carrying out the policing of an area three times the size of France (1,7 million sq. km) is the �Albatros�. This obviously leaves a large scope for the bandits even if the actual fishing zones are more strictly limited. We shall see later that the existing sanctions if caught are far from negligible.

Unfortunately, there is little chance that this kind of disincentive carries much weight, as a number of pirate vessels are capable of playing games by changing their flags and adopting flags of convenience to avoid any legal pursuit. Two incidents, which occurred at the end of the year, illustrate the degree of tension in the area and the attraction that toothfish hold over the bandits.

On October 9th 2000, a pirate ship under Sao Tome flag with a crew of 40 comprising Spanish, Koreans and Chileans got wrecked and 26 sailors were picked up by another pirate ship operating in the vicinity as well as eight bodies. Six persons remain missing. Unfortunately, no ship from the French Navy was in the vicinity and so the pirates could not be questioned.

On September 25th, a French vessel spotted a pirate ship operating without authority inside the EEZ. The pirate ship, on being approached for identification, went into a series of manoeuvres to try to jam the propeller of the French vessel with a steel cable.

These incidents highlight the degree of danger that exists in this zone, and for the need of better and proper surveillance. In this respect the decisions taken by the Mauritius government to reinforce controls of the suspected illicit unloadings have received the full support and co-operation from the French agricultural ministry.

The tootfish
  • More commonly known as Pantagonian toothfish, Chilean Sea Bass or Toothfish.
  • Average length - one metre, discovered in the early 90�s in Antarctic waters, South of Chile, toothfish fishing is the most recent example of a "Gold Rush".
  • Nowadays, fishing is carried out in Southern Seas, based out of La Reunion, Mauritius, South Africa, Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand as well as South Georgia, Bouvet, Crozet and the Kerguelen archipelago (in the vicinity of the Roaring 40�s and the Fighting 50�s).
  • Vessels called "longliners" catch fish in depths between 300 m and 2,500 m. They derive their name from the method of fishing that is practised.
  • Longliner fishing consists of putting out a line on which there is a multitude of baited hooks. The main lines are equipped with 13,000 - 16,000 hooks each and are laid over hundreds of nautical miles. They are also heavily ballasted to ensure that they sink rapidly once in the water, avoiding the entrapment of endangered bird species such as the albatross and the petrel.
  • The waters where the toothfish is caught, are extremely difficult, requiring the use of processing ships of more than 50 metres long, capable of dropping main lines and dry freezing fish to -40�C.

The environnement


The various rules which must be followed in order to respect the strict limit on catches, necessitates the latest ships and expensive technologies. Owners need to have a stable environment in order to be able to pay off their investments (lighting, ballasting the lines, disposal of rubbish, bird protection, etc.).

It should be remembered that in some areas, 90 % of toothfish catches are illegal, and that the �Blue Gold� attracts its own underworld�

In an effort to prevent pirates continuing their pillaging, the international authorities have put in place a number of measures :

If caught in the act, the penalties applicable are quite dissuasive. If the culprit is apprehended in La Reunion, his cargo and his equipment will be impounded and the crew�s representatives will be deferred to the Island�s public prosecutor. In addition to possible national sanctions, there is also possible international intervention. The CCAMLR (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) can in practice indirectly bring pressure to bear on the culprits to the extent that they play a determining role in the attribution of quotas (especially in the case of toothfish). The pillaging can therefore restrict any legal access to fishing by this means. Indeed there has been a reduction in their activities in recent times, although in practice the pirate ships have learnt to become more discreet�

The Navy likes to point out the "dissuasive effect" of the heavy penalties on captains, the impounding of their catch, their material and their vessels. This "dissuasive effect" has been reinforced since the beginning of 1999 by the decision of the "Prefet" (port admiral or commander-in-chief of the port) of La Reunion to sink three longliners which had forfeited their rights of property. Lastly, during 1999 the CCAMLR met and voted the introduction of a new legislation with effect from May 7, 2000. This stipulated an identity of the origin of catches of toothfish in the Antarctic. The system requires a catch certificate to be presented on discharge of the toothfish, on transhipment, and when importing and exporting.

The countries, where the ship is registered, are responsible for the delivery of these documents concerning toothfish catches in the Southern Seas. Crucial information should be supplied under this system not only on the level and location of catches but also on their final market destinations. Japan and the US are considered as the main outlets for the toothfish. The CCAMLR is concerned that if today�s unregulated and illicit activities are not limited, it could jeopardise future stocks to be found in Antarctic waters and the vicinity. More than 20,000 tons of toothfish are probably illegal fished which represents twice the quantity actually authorised in the CCAMLR zone.

The ideal solution would be to combine this legislation with the closure of certain ports (near to the fishing areas in Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa), where the pirate ships are currently welcome. To acheive this, it would be necessary to negotiate with the port authorities to prohibit the entry and discharge of cargoes.

Industrial or semi_industrial fishing

This sector has seen a lack of development and difficulties in operating, mainly linked to problems of access to resources.

Many shipowners and the authorities in Brussels are beginning to question whether if it would not be appropriate to offer an incentive in order to reduce the present fleet, as was practised in the past. This would also permit the fleet to modernise with the new ships meeting a number of ecological criteria, namely: protection of birds, protection of young fish of endangered species and protection of the seabed, constantly being excavated by trawling by longliners of average dimensions which would certainly be better adapted to fishing activities in Europe.

Shipping and Shipbuilding Markets in 2000


ADSP Tirreno Centrale PSA Genova Pra

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