NGOs: WCPFC falls short in IUU, harvest management reforms

Published on
December 16, 2019

Despite an agreement on a resolution addressing climate change’s impact on the fisheries it regulates, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) failed to tackle several key issues at its annual meeting, which took place in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, last week.

In its most notable move during the meeting, the commission adopted a climate change resolution introduced by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries (FFA) that acknowledges the need to address the impact of climate change on fisheries. The resolution requires the commission to consider climate change when developing conservation and management measures, and to support more science on the impact to fisheries.

Though the resolution is non-binding, FFA called the adoption of the climate change resolution a “landmark” moment, saying it will aid in protecting the small island developing states whose livelihoods and food security will suffer from the effects of climate change, primarily as they impact tuna stocks.

“From the perspective of the FFA members, the adoption of this resolution is a key development,” FFA Director-General Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen said. “[It] establishes a solid foundation for a more urgent approach to the threat of climate change.”

FFA Chair Eugene Pangelinan said the tuna commission is sending a “powerful message globally that it is stepping up to the challenge.”

“From the FFA members perspective, [the resolution] is one of the key priorities we wanted to get out of this meeting, given that it is one of the things our ministers tasked us to advocate at the WCPFC to address climate change issues about fisheries,” Pangelinan told Pacific reporters at the end of the meeting on 11 December.

The WCPFC also adopted a measure that will ban fishing vessels from keeping manta and mobula rays they may catch, as well as safe-handling guidelines for seabirds, a measure that will help protect seabirds from fishing bycatch deaths. It also adopted a South Pacific albacore tuna work-plan, which will aim to address issues involving albacore fishing and management. 

The Pew Charitable Trusts International Officer Glen Holmes called the manta measure “a big win for the commission” but said it should have pushed harder to establish harvest management strategies for both tuna and sharks.

“I think there was a very big missed opportunity for the commission to establish a dedicated meeting for scientists and managers to meet to discuss the issues around harvest management strategies to further progress that part of the commission that will lead to a more sustainable management of the stock into the future,” Holmes said.

Holmes said that while the measure was a positive step, more must be done by the commission to protect vulnerable shark populations such as the oceanic whitetip, which was recently listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“Despite the latest assessment showing the stock in the Western Pacific has been fished down to just 4 percent of its population, the commission failed to agree to ban longline vessels from using unsustainable shark line and wire trace, which scientists say is needed to reduce mortality of the species,” Holmes said in a statement.

The WCPFC also failed to agree on several issues that will combat illegal fishing affecting bigeye, yellowfin, and skipjack tuna fisheries.

“The lack of progress demonstrates that the commission is at risk of stalling, and is not delivering its mandate,” Holmes said. “It has much more work to do to deliver sustainable fisheries.”

Jamie Gibbon, manager for Pew’s international fisheries team, said steps were not taken by the commission to reduce illegal activity in its waters and ports. Gibbon said WCPFC stalled in reaching agreement on how to carry out an analysis of the effectiveness of the current measures that manage transshipment in the region.  

“Despite clear information demonstrating the importance of doing so, WCPFC decided not to automatically update its list of illegal, unreported, and unregulated vessels with those listed on the IUU lists of other RFMOs – a simple step has already been taken by several other RFMOs to reduce illegal activity in their waters,” Gibbon said.

The WCPFC said it will add two days to its 2020 meeting to discuss the implementation of catch limits on the high seas outside of any country’s exclusive economic zone, another issue that was not resolved at the 2019 meeting.

The WCPFC Transhipment Intersessional Working Group, however, is working to conduct a work plan to identify gaps in the current transhipment measures the commission has put in place, Pangelinan said. Although gaps still exist, a resolution has been made that would properly monitor the transfer of fish products, especially in the open ocean, he added.

Photo courtesy of Fatu Tauafiafi

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