Real risk of no decision to extend current on tropical tuna conservation rules

FFA Deputy Director General Wes Norris

By Pita Ligaiula

MANILA, 05 DECEMBER 2017 (PACNEWS) —- A push is on from powerful distant water fishing nations (DWFNs) to water-down conservation measures for tropical tuna, after a new assessment by scientists which show the stock is in better shape than previously believed.

Pacific nations believe the push is pre-mature as uncertainty surrounding fish numbers is still significant.

The new moves by DWFNs are being made at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC ) which is underway in Manila and revealed to journalists by the Deputy Director of the Forum Fisheries Agency Wes Norris.

Tropical tunas include Skipjack, Bigeye and Yellowfin tuna.

In 2015 the catch of these species in the waters of Forum Fisheries Agency countries was worth more US$2 billion.

The current set of rules governing the fishery, known as the Tropical Tuna Measure, are due to expire at the end of this year.

Despite the more optimistic assessment of stocks the Science Committee of the WCPFC has recommended that there should be no increase in mortality of bigeye tuna until uncertainty over their new results is resolved.

Speaking to the media on the current state of play Norris says the preference of the Pacific nations is for extend the current of the Measure to next year.

“Our preference working in this week was for roll-over, keep what is in place in 2017 because that’s both the right balance and also very precautionary. 2017 had new measures that didn’t contribute to the stock assessment, so our view was let’s keep those measures in place for the time being rather than just relaxing them and taking them out.

“So that would be our ideal preference that simply won’t happen, we’ve heard very, very strong red lines from other delegations that no we can’t accept that….We can’t accept that.

“ We are looking at a compromise between no measure at all or a weaker measure, which is an unfortunate place to be and that’s why our job is to find what are the right tweaks that we should do that we not gonna overly burden ourself in the future,” Norris told the media.

“The big fear is if we go and relax everything now, sure you know that’s gonna be fine in 2018, and we can go out and catch more fish and people will have a good time but than if a new stock assessment is done in a couple of years’ time and shows actually you shouldn’t have relax those measures and now the stock is depleted again than we in a difficult discussion of trying to agree into a new cuts.

“Sometimes it is easier to keep the existing cuts than agree into a new one in the future,” said Norris.
The WCPFC’s tropical tuna measure sets detailed rules on how much fish can be caught, by which fleet and whether fishing is sustainable.

“From FFA Secretariat perspective not having a measure would be very unfortunate, what would mean is that the Purse Seine fishery would still have quite a high degree of management largely because the PNA Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) and the third implementing arrangement . So the three months EEZ FADs will remain in place for the vast bulk of the fishery because that is the PNA rule that they implemented before the WCPF rules.

“ So the Purse Seine fishery would continue to be relatively constraint, we not sure what arrangement would be put in place by other countries for the long line fishery or for the high seas Purse Seine fishery if there was no WCPFC rules to restraint themselves . From the secretariat perspective walking away without a measure is not a viable option. It is an incumbent on all of us to find a responsible compromise that’s not gonna unduly risk the scientific advice,” Norris explained.

Although Norris didn’t say how serious the risk will be if no measure is taken, Norris is still optimistic on the current negotiations.

“Early days…we had some really good discussions yesterday( Monday) in the closed session around some option that would be able to accommodate those who have been quiet strong that they need to see increases in their longline catch and I guess will reconvene at some point today and see how additional consultation went overnight on that.

So I think it’s still too early to be writing this -off and certainly we did see a bit of building momentum in the last discussion that would be looking to capitalise on,” Norris explained.