October 19, 2012, Nha Trang, Vietnam
It started as an accident and has now led to an unprecedented transformation of a fishery. Late last year longline fishermen catching squid for bait were surprised to see huge tuna chasing and snatching the squid from their lines. They quickly rigged up hand lines with live squid and standard tuna hooks and filled their boat with tuna in a matter of days. Word of the technique spread quickly throughout the fishery and more and more longline fishermen tried, and converted to, handline fishing. For the first time in many years Vietnamese fishermen are fishing in the September to December off season and the catch is still on.
Now tuna longline vessel owners and fishermen are scrambling to convert their vessels and get in on the off-season catch. The Sea Delight team paid a visit to a busy Nha Trang City boatyard and saw firsthand the “gold rush” mentality.
We were invited to the boatyard by longline vessel Captain Pham Tan Thanh. Capt. Thanh is a signed member of the Sea Delight/WWF VN/WWF CTNI Better Fishing Practice Initiative (BFPI) distributing C hooks to the Vietnamese longline tuna fleet. He, along with 10 other captains, has agreed to fish for tuna using only circle hooks for one year and to allow onboard observers on some of his fishing trips.
He returned earlier last week from his second 100% C hook trip, the first C hook trip handline fishing, and talked about the trip with Sea Delight’s Van Tang.
Sea Delight’s Van Tang and Capt. Thanh discuss his recent handline/C hook trip
Ms.Van: “Capt. Thanh, were the C hooks you used this trip alright?”
Capt. Thanh: “No, they were not alright, they were fantastic!”
Ms. Van: “Really? What do you mean?
Capt. Thanh: “ I mean that these hooks catch more fish. When I use the standard “J” hook for every ten bites I only hook and land 7 fish. With your C hooks I land 9 out of 10. “
Ms. Van: “So how did you do this trip? How many tuna did you catch?”
Capt. Thanh: “I caught 88 yellowfin tuna, all good size, and 70 mahi mahi”
(Note: a good longline trip for a typical longline vessel would come in with 50 or 60 tuna)
In the boatyard; this longliner now has lights to attract squid at night – and fish handline
Capt Thanh went on to explain he also had no unwanted by-catch this trip, no sharks and no marine turtles. He said more and more captains had converted to handline fishing even though the handline fish get a lower beach price than longline fish due to slightly lower quality for the Japan fresh market. He also said more of his fellow fishermen want switch from the standard J hooks to the good quality C hooks the BFPI has been providing.
The boatyard was full of longline vessels being readied for handline fishing
He said his costs and effort are much less for handline fishing. He uses much less fuel and 20% less bait. He also does not need to waste time catching his bait with gill nets because they jig the squid with lights at night and just use them as live bait right away. There is no wasted bait. Any squid that is not used for bait is dried on board and sold back in port or used by the family.
This is also a win-win situation for better practice in the fishery. Less fuel used means a lower carbon footprint for the fleet. Direct bait capture and use by handline means no more bait gill nets, gill net by-catch and wasted bait. And, although the data is only voluntary and from the fishermen themselves, it seems the # 13 C hooks being used interact with fewer marine turtles and sharks than the standard J hooks.
We will be sure to report on Capt. Thanh’s next trip as well as on the BFPI’s progress in general, very soon.