I WAS once told by my environmental sciences lecturer, Assoc Prof David Mowbray, that “tuna fish know no boundaries and no borders and no man or government will claim the tuna as theirs”.
Dr Mowbray pointed out that tuna are a trans-migratory species and can be anywhere depending on season and sea water temperature. They can swim long distances without fatigue due to their tough muscular build.
Their meat is a delicacy on dinner tables, whether canned or fresh. If fish were like cars, tuna would be the Ferraris of the ocean—sleek, powerful and made for speed.
Their torpedo-shaped bodies streamline their movement through water and special swimming muscles enable them to cruise the ocean highways with great efficiency.
They prefer to travel in schools to avoid predators, usually with the smaller ones at the top; however this group behaviour comes at a huge cost as fishermen use this knowledge to their advantage to scoop and haul them in using driftnets or even sticks.
The highly decorative skipjack, blue fin and yellow fin tuna are sporting wonders; some of which weigh in at several hundred kilograms.
According to some game fishermen, yellow fin and blue fin are amongst the world’s toughest game fish. You’ve got to be strong to play them and haul them in because it’s no job for a boneless man.
You could be jerked overboard by the sheer might and fighting prowess of these fish. These tuna are amongst the most sought after game fish.
“These bad boys of the ocean are strong and have high stamina,” I was told. “They will fight until the end and will make you sweat till the moment you land them.”
And, in particular, if you are targeting a yellowfin then you should be prepared for a battle because it is no quitter. It will fight until you cut it loose or land it on the boat.”
As an Environmental Scientist whose interest covers both food and game, I’m very concerned with the dangers threatening the survival, numbers and regeneration time of these oceanic wonders.
This concern is felt also on behalf of the Pacific Island sea faring community and the people who rely on it, whose livelihood is very much dependent on fish stocks for protein supply and sustenance.
It is public knowledge that tuna stocks have been overfished and depleted, and that traditional tuna breeding grounds are threatened right throughout the Pacific.
The use of modern fishing technology including GPS and radar to locate and spot schools of fish and sophisticated fishing techniques like drift net fishing are beginning to overwhelm the fish.
There seems little regard for sustainability.
Population increase in Pacific communities is also exerting pressure on fish stocks and other marine life.
At the same time, increased storm water disposal into oceans and increasing sea water temperatures are leading to coral bleaching, destroying the breeding ground for aquatic life including fish.
Papua New Guinea, through the National Fisheries Authority (NFA), and the other Pacific Island countries are signatories to various tuna conventions and agreements. These laws are meant to ensure that tuna will remain available to the South Pacific people.
I’m sure that these and other initiatives like will assist to bring greater awareness to Pacific islanders, governments and the fishing industry of the necessity to conserve and ensure the long term survival and availability of tuna fish species in Pacific waters.
Kerry Kimiafa is the Head of Science at Goroka Grammar School. He is an environmental science graduate from the University of PNG and a current masters candidate in Ecology through the University of Western Australia.