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30% Reduction In WCP Tuna Catches To Be Discussed Pacific Ocean, November 4, 13

A showdown that could decide the sustainability of the $7 billion Pacific tuna industry is expected at the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Cairns, Australia early next month.
The Pacific countries and distant water fishing nations that are members of the WCPFC will meet December 2-6 to decide conservation measures at a time when tuna resources have never before been under so much pressure: In 2012, a record 2.65 million tons of tuna were caught in the region by the most boats fishing ever. Coupled with the 2012 tuna totals — at a time when scientific advice has called for a 30 percent reduction in effort — is the refusal by some distant water fishing nations to provide operational catch data and efforts by others to undermine established management regimes adopted by Pacific islands, notably the eight members of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA).
One bright light is a joint proposal for increased conservation efforts — including such initiatives as reducing use of fish aggregation devices (FADs) — that will be jointly introduced for action at the WCPFC meeting in Cairns by PNA, Japan and the Philippines. This conservation plan breaks new ground not only by proposing a long-term conservation management scheme for the WCPFC to adopt but because it is endorsed by 11 member nations of the WCPFC, not just the PNA as in the past. They are jointly proposing conservation measures focusing on bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack tuna.
Among the recommendations that will go to the annual meeting of the WCPFC is to reduce the catch of bigeye by longliners by 45 percent of 2004 levels by 2017, and for skipjack, to expand an annual ban on use of fish aggregation devices (FADs) by purse seiners from the current three months to four months starting in 2014 and to five months beginning in 2017.
In addition to conservation measures in the 200-mile exclusive economic zones of PNA nations, it seeks to cap the number of fishing days allowed annually on the high seas. But Glenn Hurry, the executive director of the WCPFC based in Pohnpei, is not overly optimistic about the PNA, Japan and Philippines measure — as much as he wants it to be adopted.

Hurry, an Australian, issued a blunt warning to the Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting in Majuro in September — a warning that surprisingly did not even rate mention in the Forum communiqué. While the record catch in 2012 might appear to be good news, in fact this catch was taken “by an increased number of vessels fishing harder than they have ever fished before, fishing more efficiently with better technology, and deploying more sets than in previous years,” Hurry said.

Glenn Hurry, executive director of the WCPFC

Despite scientific evidence that bigeye tuna is being over-fished, Hurry said the WCPFC has been unable to get agreement from its membership to reduce bigeye catches. Of the PNA, Japan and Philippines proposal, Hurry said plainly: “There is still considerable disagreement between the WCPFC members on what actions might constitute the final text in this conservation and management measure.”

He said the number of vessels fishing for tuna continue to increase in the Pacific, with last year’s 297 fishing boats setting an all-time high. But 45 more purse seiners are now under construction in Asian shipyards, which will “cause sustainability problems in the fishery,” he said and raised “serious concerns about the increasing number of vessels fishing in the region. What we now see from the 2012 fishing data is more boats in the fishery, higher overall catches, smaller fish sizes, and the lowest ever levels of fisheries biomass for these tuna stocks.”
Marshall Islands fisheries Director Glen Joseph said as bad as it sounds, the situation is worse. “It’s not just bigeye tuna raising concern,” he said. “Swordfish catches are also raising a red flag.” And yellowfin tuna is reported by scientists to be near its maximum sustainable yield. “If distant water fishing nations support sustainability of the resource, then they need to commit to a 30 percent reduction in catches,” Joseph said.
“It’s not a question of should they do it or not. They have to do it or face the consequences.” As this year’s annual WCPFC meeting approaches, Joseph said PNA and coastal states “have to be optimistic (about the Commission taking action) because we have something on the table. We have to capitalize on it. If our measure is rejected, it will be a rejection by distant water fishing nations of coastal states’ interests and a breach of the WCPFC treaty’s Article 30 (which requires the WCPFC to ‘give full recognition to the special requirements of developing states parties to this Convention, in particular small island developing states’).” The islands can generate greater wealth than they have to date from the fishery, but “the potential to achieve this is being seriously eroded by the continued increase in vessels entering this fishery,” Hurry said.
The Commission’s annual meeting in early December must take forthright action to reduce catch and effort levels, Hurry said. All Commission members, including Forum islands, “must demonstrate this year that they are capable of taking hard decisions for the management of the region’s tuna stocks,” Hurry said. “These decisions will mean reduced levels of catch for bigeye tuna, it will mean agreeing to management arrangements for the catch of yellowfin and skipjack tuna, and it will mean capping and reducing the number of vessels in the fishery.”
“If we as coastal nations want to sustain the resource for the next 50 years,” said Joseph, “we must insist on a 30 percent reduction in effort and mortality by key tuna species of concern.” These are decisions that can no longer be delayed, say Hurry and Joseph, but which are expected to make for a contentious WCPFC annual meeting next month.