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USA On Collision Course With PNA Over Bigeye

The proposal that would subject the USA’s  longline tuna fisheries to a 45-percent reduction in bigeye tuna catch, which is being proposed by the 8 PNA nations (Parties of Nauru Agreement), is met with great opposition from the American side. 

According to Arnold Palacios, chair of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC), the PNA has supported rampant expansion of tuna purse-seining in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO), which in his opinion must be seen as the main reason for bigeye overfishing and a 75 percent reduction in bigeye yield.

First week of December, at the 10th regular meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC10) in Cairns, Australia, 32 countries and territories will try to develop a new conservation and management measure applicable to the world’s largest tuna fisheries. In order to get an agreement on bigeye conservation a consensus among member countries needs to be reached, and the US and PNA delegation need to find common ground,  however currently the 2 parties are far apart in their analysis of the causes and the route to a solution. 
The PNA chief executive officer, Dr. Transform Aqorau, stated in a Nov. 18, 2013 press release, that new rules for tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific must cut catches of bigeye tuna by longline fishing vessels, especially in the high seas. Dr. Aqorau specifically singled out the Hawaii longline fleet, which according to the WPRFMC only takes a fraction of the WCPO bigeye catch and which is considered by the Americans as the world’s best managed longline fishery.
The PNA manages the world’s largest tuna purse-seine fishery within their adjoining waters.  Tuna purse-seiners target skipjack tuna, which is commonly used in canned tuna products. Much of this fishing is conducted around anchored and free floating fish aggregating devices (FADs), which results in the unintended catch of large numbers of juvenile bigeye tuna.  It is this catch of juvenile bigeye, accounting for about 85 percent of the bigeye tuna landed in the WCPFC Convention Area, which according to WPRFMC has reduced the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) of the stock and has contributed to bigeye overfishing since the late 1980s.
Mature bigeye for the sashimi and fresh fish market is the main catch of the U.S. longline fleet operating from Hawaii. This longline fleet has been fishing at 90 percent of its 2004 bigeye catch as part of the current reduction measures by the WCPFC.
“Recent statements by Dr. Aqorau are misleading and avoid addressing the rapid expansion of purse-seine fishing that has put the sustainability of bigeye in jeopardy,” Palacios states in a press release of his organization.
“Dr. Aqorau’s claim that PNA countries have taken many measures to reduce the impact of purse-seine fishing on bigeye tuna stocks is not supported by the evidence,” Palacios continues. “About 90 percent of the bigeye fishing mortality occurs in the equatorial zone. The purse-seine fleet that fishes in PNA waters has grown from about 200 vessels at the turn of the millennium to about 300 at present. The WCPO purse-seine catch of skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye has shown no sign of decline, and the purse-seine catch estimate for bigeye tuna for 2012 (69,164 mt) was again among the highest on record. On the other hand, the longline bigeye catch in the WCPO has declined from around 100,000 mt in 2004 to about 75,000 mt in 2012.”
Palacios also questions Dr. Aqorau’s statement that “we’ve got to make sure those nations that fish our tuna stocks also put in the hard work that goes into managing them.”
“The way I read it, the PNA has assumed ownership over all tuna in the Western and Central Pacific,” Palacios says. “Our Hawaii longline fleet catches fish in the U.S. exclusive economic zone around Hawaii and in the adjacent high seas outside of the U.S. zone. The PNA does not own these fish, and the WPRFMC has had management measures (vessel monitoring system, permit and reporting, observer coverage, limited entry, fishing vessel size limits, etc.) for the Hawaii longline fleet for more than 20 years. The most recent bigeye stock assessment shows that most of the fishing effort and fishing mortality for bigeye occurs from purse-seine and longline vessels fishing within the equatorial band between 10 deg N and 10 deg S. Approximately 98 percent of the Hawaii longline fleet bigeye tuna catch is caught above 10 degrees north, outside of this band of intensive fishing activity.”
Palacios adds, “The excessive purse seine catches of small bigeye means that 75 percent of the potential yield of the Western and Central Pacific bigeye is being lost. These small fish could grow up and become valuable adult fish, which could bring global economic benefits. The real tragedy about bigeye is that the purse seiners are not even targeting bigeye, yet they are driving the stock’s MSY down. A sustainable bigeye fishery is in Hawaii’s interest, whereas the PNA couldn’t care less about bigeye.”
Kitty Simonds, executive director of the WPRFMC, expressed disappointment at the PNA remarks. “Instead of making nonsensical attacks on the well managed Hawaii longline fishery, which catches less than 3 percent of the total WCPO bigeye catch, the PNA should get its own house in order—cap purse-seine capacity, limit fishing catch and effort, and establish meaningful measures to reduce catches of juvenile bigeye tuna.”
The Western Pacific Fishery Management Council was established by the U.S Congress to manage fisheries in offshore waters around Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Pacific remote island areas.  The 8 PNA countries within the Western Pacific Ocean have about 25% of the world tuna stocks in their EEZ’s, and manage their own tuna stocks. Any change on effective bigeye conservation will depend on parties to come to a comprehensive agreement.