Fishery Improvement Project
Last Update: February 2018
Mahi-mahi (Coryphaena hippurus)
Yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares)
FIP rating according to CASS progress table: 4, FIP is delivering improvement in policies or practices
FIP Rating according to SFP rating system: A (Exceptional Progress, Sep 2017)
FIP Rating according to MSC benchmarking tool:
Mahi – Initial score (Jul 2013): 0.24; Second (Jul 2014): 0.29; Third (Jan 2015): 0.31; Fourth (Jan 2016): 0.34
Tuna – Initial score (Sep 2013): 0.47; Second (Jan 2015): 0.50; Fourth (Jan 2016): 0.50
Fishery location: Panamanian Pacific
Sustainability Information: See Summary tab at:
Date Publicly Announced: December 2011
Current Improvement Recommendations:
- Implement a monitoring system in order to provide inputs for a stock assessment.
- Implement a harvest strategy and management plan based on the best scientific information available (a risk analysis, while an assessment becomes available).
- Collect data about the fishery with non-target species including protected, endangered, or threatened (ETP) species, in a systematic way.
- Participate of regional efforts to coordinate research and management.
Mahi-mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) is a highly migratory pelagic species reported in more than 30% of the ocean surface, living mainly in tropical and subtropical areas of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. It is considered of seasonal occurrence in temperate areas. The mahi-mahi is a fast-growing predator that lives up to 4 years and can reach a length of 2 meters. The species is associated with blue waters indicating high concentrations of dissolved oxygen.
The periods of greater availability of mahi-mahi in Panamanian waters occur during April and May, and again from November through January, under normal oceanographic conditions. Mahi-mahi fishing in the Panamanian Pacific depends on seasonal migratory patterns of the species and the behavior of the market.
Yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) is an oceanic pelagic species, which, like the mahi-mahi, enjoys waters with high concentrations of dissolved oxygen. It can regulate its temperature and spawns in summer. Yellowfin tuna are highly migratory, stay far from the coast, and are distributed in all tropical and subtropical waters, except the Mediterranean Sea.
The greatest availability of large yellowfin tuna in Panamanian waters occurs between February and May.
Panama’s Pacific mahi-mahi fishery started in the mid 1980s. The average length of captured individuals in Panama is 101.1 cm. Very few captured specimens are shorter than 69.9 cm, the estimated average length at first maturity.
The catches of mahi-mahi and yellowfin tuna in the territorial waters of the Republic of Panama were both artisanal and industrial until December 2010, when the Government of Panama issued Executive Order No. 486, prohibiting the use of longlines for vessels over 6 GRT. Then, in December 2011, Administrative Order No. 125, issued by the Panamanian Aquatic Resources Authority (ARAP), allowed the use of longlines only with hand rollers, with no mechanical, hydraulic, or electric connections, and a maximum of 600 hooks. These measures placed important limits on fishing effort, and this fishery is now 100% artisanal.
The use of longlines has a recognized impact over turtles and sharks. In Panama, circular hooks (#13) are the most popular, so observed related mortality for turtles has been low, perhaps because the migratory season of turtles occurs after the mahi-mahi fishing season. The impact of the Panamanian fishery on sharks is still pending assessment. There is no reported interaction of longline fishing with seabirds, although there is no monitoring program in place.
Mahi-mahi catches are mainly for export, with the United States as the most important market. Along 2010, according to ARAP statistics, approximately 1,800 tonnes of mahi-mahi were landed.
Yellowfin tuna catches are also mainly for export, with the United States as the most important market. Along 2010, according to ARAP statistics, approximately 4,700 tonnes of yellowfin tuna were landed, a small fraction of the total international tuna fleet landings in the Eastern Pacific Ocean for the same species, but important for the fresh and frozen market in the US.
Beginning of the FIP:
Recognizing the importance of having a sustainability certification to continue supplying the US market, Grupo Panalang Union Inc., the most important Panamanian mahi-mahi company, contacted CeDePesca staff at the end of 2010 in order to work on an improvement project. In 2016, Bay Hill Seafood joined the FIP to support improvement actions.
- Lack of stock assessment for mahi.
- Lack of local catch limits for both stocks.
- Lack of biological reference points to guide management.
- Lack of a management strategy.
- Lack of systematic evaluation of the interaction of longlines with non-target species (especially protected, endangered, or threatened (PET) species).
- Lack of regional coordination for research and management for mahi-mahi.
- To collaborate with ARAP, fishery stakeholders, and research institutions in implementing a plan for research and monitoring in the mahi-mahi fishery.
- To make the necessary arrangements to evaluate the status of the mahi-mahi stock at the regional level.
- To promote the development of assessment tools to help estimate the status of mahi-mahi population along the Eastern Pacific, including the adoption of biological reference points and coherent rules to guide the decision-making process (harvest strategy).
- To promote the adoption of the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF).
- To assist ARAP in the design and implementation of and Onboard Observers Program for the longline fleet to study the interaction of the fishery with target and non-target species.
- To promote studies aimed at identifying, and possibly mitigating, the impacts of this fishery on the target stock and other ecosystem components using the Risk Assessment framework as a tool to understand risks and ways to minimize them.
- To promote the enhancement of the transparency of research results and fishery information.
CeDePesca started a gap analysis against the standards of the Marine Stewardship Council to define an appropriate improvement plan together with Grupo Panalang Union.
CeDePesca held meetings and dialogues with stakeholders including the Panamanian Association of Seafood Exports (APPEXMAR); fishermen’s associations; Grupo Panalang Union representatives; and other stakeholders, such as researchers from the University of Panama, to find alternative ways to fill the voids of research and to find mitigation measures for environmental impacts, and to facilitate the establishment of rules, strategies, and recommendations for a scientifically-based TAC.
Furthermore, a draft cooperation agreement between the University of Panama and CeDePesca started being discussed to collaborate on research activities for this and other Panamanian fisheries.
January – March 2013
A workshop as conducted in February to disseminate information about similar fishery’s certification and improvement processes, with participants coming from Ecuador and Mexico. The preliminary conclusions of the gap analysis conducted by CeDePesca and a workplan proposal were presented at the meeting and approved by the numerous attendees (fishers, companies, officials, researchers).
April – June 2013
In April, the first national workshop about fisheries research was held to identify key research needs. This was a first step in the eventual development of a research plan for this fishery. The workshop was jointly organized by the fisheries agency (ARAP), the University of Panama, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Maritime University of Panama, fishers from CONAPAS, fishing companies (PROMARINA and Panalang) and CeDePesca, which coordinated the meeting.
July – September 2013
In July, CeDePesca delivered the final version of the gap analysis for the Panama mahi mahi fishery against the MSC standard. The analysis showed that 19 performance indicators could get scores below 60 points. Additionally, eight indicators with medium priorities could get scores between 60 and 79 points, and four indicators could get scores equal to or greater than 80 points. Based on those findings, the workplan was updated.
In September, CeDePesca delivered the final version of the gap analysis for the Panama yellowfin tuna fishery against the MSC standard. The analysis showed that 11 performance indicators could get scores below 60 points. Additionally, 13 indicators with medium priorities could get scores between 60 and 79 points, and 6 indicators could get scores equal to or greater than 80 points. Based on those findings, the workplan was updated.
In September, based on discussions held at the April workshop, the Longline Fisheries Commission was formalized, including representatives of the fisheries authority (ARAP), fishers, mahi-mahi and tuna exporters, operators of longliners, fisheries researchers, and NGOs. This Commission’s aim is to create a participatory Management Body, able to make decisions in order to achieve a sustainable status for longline fisheries.
October – December 2013
In October, a project proposal was delivered to Sea Pact for funding ,and it was approved in November.
During this period, the Longline Fisheries Commission met periodically to ask ARAP to reconsider amending Resolution ADM/ARAP No. 125 of December 16, 2011.
In December, ARAP decided to set up an interim committee to pay attention to the request of the Longline Fisheries Commission.
January – March 2014
In January, a monitoring plan was implemented by the FIP for the longline fishery.
In February, four skippers were trained in the use of a fishing logbook for data collection at the Pedregal Port. In March, two skippers were trained at Mensabe Port.
Also in March, digitalization of exports data provided by Panalang Union Group started.
April – June 2014
In April three skippers were trained in the use of a fishing logbook for data collection at Juan Diaz Port.
In May, two biologists from the University of Panama were trained in data collection of catch, effort, size, gonadal development status, target species and bycatch species.
July – September 2014
In July, the first logbooks were received from Mensabe Port. In August, one more skipper was trained at Mensabe Port.
In September, the exports database was updated with information of May, June and July. The full database of export volumes at size includes now monthly information from 2008 to 2014.
October – December 2014
In October, a delegation of the FIP participated at the International Scientific Workshop organized by IATTC and held in Manta, Ecuador. The delegation included two to-be-appointed officials from the new government team at ARAP. There was a presentation from the Panama delegation (see Progress Table at the end of this webpage), and the data base was made available to IATTC scientists. This Workshop was attended by delegates from Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama, Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Mexico and represented a major advance in regard to better knowledge of mahi biology and its fishery and a huge step forward for international coordination in regard to this highly migratory species.
January – March 2015
In January, three more skippers were trained in collecting information of catch and effort at Pedregal Port.
In February, the update of the exports per commercial size database restarted.
April – June 2015
In April, there were several meetings with industry representatives and ARAP staff to encourage the adoption of a management plan for the fishery.
In June, there were meetings in Pedregal Port and Remedios Port with fishers, beach buyers and ship-owners to implement a fishing logbook program.
July – September 2015
In August, a Fisheries Advisory Council was established in the province of Chiriquí with the participation of government officials from ARAP, AMP, the Ministry of Health, the Municipality of Pedregal, and representatives from the artisanal fishermen in Remedios, FUPAIP (semi-industrial fishermen association in Pedregal) and Panalang. The meeting ended with an agreement to implement the fishing logbook and to take samples at the processing plant as of December.
In September, two skippers were trained in collecting data on catch and fishing effort in Juan Diaz Port.
October – December 2015
In October, the IATTC’s second technical meeting on mahi mahi took place in Lima, Peru. This meeting was organized by the IATTC, the Government of the Republic of Peru and the Peruvian Fisheries Reseaarch Institute (IMARPE). Participants came from Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Chile. Also at the workshop were NGOs such CeDePesca and WWF, and Peruvian fishers’ representatives. The aim of the meeting was to review the structure of the mahi-mahi stock, and to identify potential indicators of stock status in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Participants brought updated presentations to the workshop, and biological aspects and assumptions on the structure of the population derived from population models were reviewed. Potential methodologies for assessing the mahi mahi in the Eastern Pacific Ocean were examined. IMARPE shared a stock assessment using different models that showed the stock in good condition. Also, the Panama mahi FIP presented the size composition, volume and number of catches along different years and a stock structure hypothesis. Panama has been nominated as host for the next Technical Meeting in 2016.
Also in October, ARAP begun updating the database related to the fishing logbook program.
In December, CeDePesca trained two observers in data collection of target species catch and size, effort and identification of bycatch species. Work is expected to begin in February 2016.
January – March 2016
In January, CeDePesca worked on a draft containing a revised set of management measures applicable to the longline fisheries, together with representatives from the fishing sector. In late January, a meeting with ARAP’s top official took place to discuss advances of the FIP and to present the draft for further consideration by the authority.
In January, a specialists workshop was held to present a project to be conducted by CeDePesca on behalf of Conservation International. The goal of the project is to characterize fishing activities taking place in the Special Marine Protection Zone adjacent to the Coiba National Park and to prepare a proposal for a management plan. The workshop was attended by representatives of artisanal fishers, scientists, representatives of the Ministry of the Environment and of ARAP, as well as other NGOs and institutions. During this quarter, interviewers and onboard observers from the community were selected and trained, and the interviewing of fishers in Pedregal and Remedios and the onboard observers program came to a start. It should be noted that although this project is not specifically oriented towards mahi-mahi and yellowfin tuna, it will gather relevant information in the area of study.
In February, the framework collaboration agreement between ARAP and CeDePesca that had been under discussion for several months reached its final stage, has been signed and is awaiting ratification by the Panamanian General Audits Office.
Regarding the Onboard Observers Program, it had to be put on hold because of financial constraints.
Also in February, Bay Hill Seafood (US importer) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with CeDePesca, becoming partner of the Panamanian mahi and yellowfin tuna FIP. The partnership was announced in early March.
April – June 2016
In April, ARAP made public a new draft proposal to update the Executive Decree that regulates the longline fishery. This new draft included suggestions made by CeDePesca and the fishing sector in January. Two meetings took place: one on April 15th, and another from April 25th to 27th to further discuss the draft decree. A resolution to create an Interim Committee for Longline was also discussed. The meeting was attended by fishery managers, artisanal fishers, sport fishing representatives, fishing companies’ representatives and NGOs.
Also in April, CeDePesca began collaborating with the organization of the IATTC’s third technical meeting on mahi-mahi. This activity has continued throughout this quarter. The meeting will be held in October in Panama City from October 25th to 27th and it is being organized by ARAP and CeDePesca with financial support from this FIP.
July – September 2016
During this quarter, CeDePesca continued to update the database with recent purchase data provided by Grupo Panalang Union, as well as the fishing logbook database. Work has also been conducted regarding the historical database with data from the period 2005-2008 provided by ARAP and Grupo Panalang Union.
In August, ARAP provided information on mahi-mahi landings in several ports in the Panamanian Pacific. CeDePesca is collaborating in the review of this dataset.
During this quarter, CeDePesca has continued to collaborate on the organization of the IATTC’s third technical meeting on mahi-mahi that will be held in Panama City in October.
Also during this quarter, CeDePesca once again visited the communities of Pedregal and Remedios to gather additional data on the project “Characterization of fishing activities in the Special Marine Protection Zone of Coiba National Park and proposals for a management plan”. The onboard observers program continues to be implemented and interviews with the sport fishing sector and the artisanal sector continue to take place.
October – December 2016
In October, the IATTC’s third technical meeting on mahi-mahi took place in Panama City, Panama. This meeting was organized by the IATTC, the Government of the Republic of Panama, ARAP and CeDePesca, and was conducted with financial support from this FIP. Participants came from Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Panama. Also at the workshop were NGOs such CeDePesca and WWF, as well as representatives from the Panamanian fishing sector.
The 3rd technical meeting on mahi-mahi focused on evaluating and prioritizing data collection needs, as well as tools for developing and evaluating stock status indicators likely to rapidly deliver the scientific information needed for managing these data-limited fisheries. The IATTC staff facilitated sessions of collaborative work and discussions aimed at resolving two important issues that need to be addressed: 1) priorities for the collection of fisheries data, and 2) stock status indicators that could be derived relatively rapidly from those data and that would be useful for managing these fisheries.
Besides, capacity-building activities, such as tutorials, were conducted to illustrate the use of different data sources and assessment methods, and discussion sessions were held to generate ideas for future research. Also, the potential use of a Management Strategy Evaluation framework to explore the effect of the choice of data sources and indicators for such data-limited fisheries on the possibility of achieving the desired conservation goals was discussed.
During this meeting, the advances and contributions of the Panama mahi-mahi FIP to the improvement of management and research were highlighted by ARAP during their presentation.
More information on this meeting on mahi-mahi, including documents and presentations, can be found here: IATTC’s 3rd Technical meeting.
In December, ARAP, CIAT and CeDePesca made coordinations to start the mahi mahi otolith collection program in Panama.
Also in December, the onboard observers program as part of the project “Characterization of fishing activities in the Special Marine Protection Zone of Coiba National Park and proposals for a management plan” has ended. It should be noted that although this project is not specifically directed towards mahi-mahi and yellowfin tuna, relevant information is being gathered and analyzed.
On November 30th, 2016, Bay Hill Seafood has informed of its decision to suspend its participation in this FIP as of December 1st, given that it has only been able to source very limitedly from it. Grupo Panalang Union and CeDePesca are thankful for the support Bay Hill Seafood provided to the Panamanian mahi-mahi and yellowfin tuna FIP during its participation of the project.
January – March 2017
During this quarter, the interviewing process in the framework of the project “Characterization of fishing activities in the Special Marine Protection Zone of Coiba National Park and proposals for a management plan” has ended. Data is being analyzed to prepare a management proposal for the area of study. It should be noted that although this project is not specifically directed towards mahi-mahi and yellowfin tuna, relevant information is being gathered and analyzed.
April – June 2017
During this quarter, the final draft proposals for management were presented to fishers and authorities in the framework of the project “Characterization of fishing activities in the Special Marine Protection Zone of Coiba National Park and proposals for a management plan”. Several workshops were conducted for sport fishers and artisanal fishers to reach consensus. Also, maps created with the data gathered were created with the ARCGIS program and shared with stakeholders. It should be noted that although this project is not specifically directed towards mahi-mahi and yellowfin tuna, relevant information was gathered and analyzed.
July – September 2017
In July, the final document on the characterization of fishing activity in the Special Marine Protection Zone adjacent to the Coiba National Park and a proposal for a management plan were turned in to authorities. This consultancy was conducted by CeDePesca under commission by Conservation International. The project included the implementation of an onboard observers program that gathered data on fishing activities, including mahi-mahi in the area of study.
Also in July, the program for the extraction and conservation of otoliths of the mahi mahi coordinated by ARAP, IATTC and CeDePesca started in processing plants. FIP partner Panalang is participating from the program.
On September 12th, Executive Decree No. 126 of 2017 was published in the Official Gazette No. 28365-B. The decree is a step forward in the management of the Panamanian mahi-mahi and yellowfin tuna, as it issues regulations regarding the use of longlines in waters under jurisdiction of the Republic of Panama. The rule mandates the following regarding the fishing gear and fishing capacity: The number of vessels or the total hold capacity of the fleet recorded and authorized for longline fishing shall not be increased; surface longlines shall have a maximum of one thousand (1,000) circular hooks without a turn; circular hooks must be at least N°14/0; longlines must be operated at depths greater than 9 meters. Regarding monitoring, the obligatory use of the fishing log has been stipulated and an official Onboard Observers Program for longline fishing must be implemented by ARAP; however, it should be noted that no timeframe or deadline is set for the implementation. Regarding non-target species, the rule mandates that vessels using longlines as fishing gear must keep on board and use the appropriate equipment to release marine turtles and other ETP species alive. Regarding fishing effort, a closure period is set for mahi-mahi from August 15th to October 15th each year.
October 2017- January 2018
In January, the Commission for the Sustainable Management of Fishing in the Special Marine Protection Zone sanctions Agreement No. 01-ZEPM-2018, which approves the regulation of productive activities that take place in the Special Marine Protection Zone. This agreement establishes management measures, sustainable use and conservation of the mahi mahi (Coryphaena hippurus) and yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) resource, among others. It establishes for the horizontal surface longline a maximum of 500 hooks, circular type without turning and minimum size 14/0. Establishes a temporary closure for mahi mahi, in the period from August 15 to October 15 of each year.
This agreement has to be reviewed by the Scientific Committee of the Coiba National Park and approved by the Board of Directors of the Coiba National Park and finally published to be effective.