Tuna commission takes action on pollution and relaxes rules for high seas fishing

FFA Deputy Director General Wes Norris

WCPFC Chair Rhea Moss-Christian Far left

Manila, Philippines- A raft of decisions at the conclusion of the 14th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) annual meeting on December 8, 2017, will result in action to reduce marine pollution from fishing boats, help for Pacific nations to boost their port inspections aimed at reducing IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated) fishing and relaxation of some tuna fishing rules.

The 26 WCPFC member nations decided to lift the existing ban on fishing on Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) on the high seas.

This will be replaced by two periods of Fad closure amounting to 5 months of the year.

In the Exclusive Economic zones of Pacific Island nations the existing FAD closure will be reduced from four months to three months.

FAD fishing results in a higher accidental catch of vulnerable young bigeye tuna.

Rhea Moss-Christian, chair of the WCPFC said that because of recent more optimistic scientific assessments for the bigeye tuna population, the FAD closure has been relaxed, but only for one year after which it will be subject to review by the Commission.

“A lot of the new measures were based on the additional scientific information related to bigeye and as I said members had a little bit of breathing space given the positive recent stock assessment and those measures apply for one year and those members will return in December 2018 look at those measures and the impact on the stock and the additional stock information and consider whether more stringent measures are necessary,” Moss-Christian told reporters on Dec. 9, following an exhaustive round of negotiations that lasted until 3 am. that morning.

This year’s WCPFC regular session has resulted in a more productive measures compared to previous meetings.

The relaxation of FAD fishing rules was part of a new Bridging Measure for the Conservation of Tropical Tunas, i.e. bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin.

Also part of the new Measure was a decision to allow an approximately 10 per cent increase in the catch taken by the five big distant-water longline fishing fleets.

Moss-Christian said “negotiating a new measure such as this is an extremely complex process, so it has been gratifying to see Commission Members cooperating so well to produce a measure that will ensure responsible tropical tuna fishing management into 2018 and beyond.”

Environmental organization PEW however warned that the relaxation of the FAD-closure “led States to act without precaution and roll back bigeye controls too far.”

PEW explained in the longline fishery, this means a reversal to 2016 catch limits (which amounts to a 10 per cent increase compared to 2017), and in the purse seine fishery, a three-month FAD closure in EEZs and two more on the high seas). The result is a greater than 20 percent risk of the bigeye stock falling below the limit reference point (the point at which stocks reach critically low levels) sometime in the next 30 years.

Amanda Nickson, Director of International Fisheries for PEW said: “The inability to agree on measures that are in line with scientific advice puts into question the Commission’s ability to fulfill its mandate and meet the needs of the Pacific islands that depend on healthy tuna fisheries for economic security and the distant water fishing nations that operate Pacific Ocean fleets.”

Members were not able to agree on new conservation measures for South Pacific albacore, sharks, sea birds and sea turtles but agreed to make them a priority for next year.

Wez Norris, Deputy Director General of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) said that although Pacific island countries had to compromise in terms of opportunities for development, the outcome provides for potential for future benefit.

“Allowing existing fleets to increase their levels of catch and effort really does make a big impact on how difficult it is to develop your own domestic fleet into the future,” Norris stated in a Dec. 9 press briefing.

2018 tuna commission meeting with be held in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).