Workshop series aims to boost “harvest strategy” for tuna management

On late February, Fiji’s Ministry of Fisheries and the World Wildlife Fund hosted a two-day regional workshop to create a better understanding among states in the western and central Pacific Ocean of the “harvest strategy” approach to tuna management. About 40 participants from Fiji and across the Pacific region attended.

The event, held in the city of Nadi, was funded by the Global Environment Facility’s Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction project. The term “areas beyond national jurisdiction” generally refers to the high seas, which lie outside of any country’s exclusive economic zone. The Global Environment Facility is a grant-making organization formed after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to address environmental problems around the world. Its members include the World Bank and the FAO as well as many countries. Several business partners are also involved. 

Ocean Outcomes, an organization funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, helped design the program, and the workshop was also attended by a representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization. It was the seventh in a series of eight workshops, held in locations around the world, including Dakar, Senegal; Bali, Indonesia; and Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Using hands-on simulation tools, participants at the event learned how management strategy evaluations (MSEs) can test and contribute to the development of robust control rules within a harvest strategy approach. MSEs are computer simulations that can be run for various management strategies before actually applying them. In addition to setting total allowable catch, the tools can also help to satisfy multiple goals through modeling, and these goals can be weighted according to their importance.

“Harvest strategies” is a concept that basically sets rules in advance for actions that will be taken when certain thresholds are reached, for example, when stock assessments, return of effort, or actual catch data are at a certain number. This differs from current methods in which data is usually gathered first, then policy makers discuss and negotiate the catch limits afterwards, while subjected to a great deal of political and lobbying pressure. 

The problem with the traditional approach, according to Professor Emeritus Doug Butterworth of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, is that hard decisions are often delayed, sometimes indefinitely.

“For example, in the major pelagic fisheries, every time an action needed to be taken, an argument would be found to say, ‘Let’s just put it off one more year in the hope things get better,’ Butterworth said in a video produced by The Pew Charitable Trusts. “In essence, harvest strategies amount to ‘agree the rules before you play the game.’”

This approach was adopted by the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, and is being now promoted by Pew and other conservation organizations working with tuna regional fishery management organizations.

Feleti Teo, executive director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, said in an interview with the Fiji Times that about 60 percent of the world's global tuna production is from the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, totaling 2.7 million metric tons in 2016. The large catch coming from the area highlights the need for accelerated development of tuna strategies within the commission, Teo said.

The WCPFC embraced the concept of a harvest strategy approach to fisheries management in December 2014. In management measure CMM-2014-06, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission defines harvest strategies as having six components: 1) management objectives, 2) reference points, 3) acceptable levels of risk, 4) monitoring strategy, 5) harvest control rules, and 6) management strategy evaluations.

Teo said that more workshops would help partners steadily progress the development of this new approach.


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