PNA, Pew praise sustainability, labor advancements at WCPFC meeting

At the 15th Regular Session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A. last week, member-states agreed to a series of measures designed to improve the sustainability of highly migratory fish stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean and set higher standards for labor conditions in the fishery.

Representatives of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement praised the outcomes of the meeting. Both groups said the WCPFC’s decision to maintain fishing mortality levels and longline catch limits for bigeye tuna, going along with scientific recommendations. The commission also agreed to a two-year extension of the three-month prohibition on use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) by purse seiners in exclusive economic zones and a two-month prohibition in a large area of the high seas.

“FAD closures are an important conservation action that reduces catch of juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tuna,” PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru said. “Maintaining the FAD closures is contributing to sustainably managing our tuna stocks.”

The commission also adopted a measure backing a compliance monitoring scheme, and instituted a new requirement that all vessels in the fishery 12 meters in length or longer must obtain International Maritime Organization (IMO) numbers.

“This will ensure greater transparency in western and central Pacific fisheries and provide managers and enforcement agencies a greater ability to identify and track vessels in the region,” Dawn Borg Costanzi, an officer with Pew’s Ending Illegal Fishing Project. “This is an important step forward for these valuable fisheries. More vessels with IMO numbers will further strengthen monitoring, control, and surveillance in this vast ocean area and will ensure stronger efforts to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.” 

Additionally, the WCPFC agreed to put together a working group to review its transshipment practices, a move Borg Costanzi said she hoped would lead to a strengthening of management the procedure. Transshipment on the high seas has doubled over the last four years in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, she said, allowing for increased opportunities for illegal fishing to occur out of sight of fishery authorities. 

“WCPFC members have wisely recognized that it is time to review how and where transshipment occurs and how best it should be managed,” she said.

Manu Tupou-Roosen, the director-general of the Forum Fisheries Agency, a regional tuna fisheries management group for Pacific island nations, said her organization will push the working group to recommend that all transshipments in the WCPFC area occur in port.

“[Currently], there is no proper mechanism for review of the transshipment justification and there is a shortfall in compliance with WCPFC reporting provisions,” Tupou-Roosen said. “This situation is untenable and results in high risks that catch data is not accurately and effectively reported.”

The PNA already requires all tuna purse seine vessels operating in its waters to transship tuna in ports, which it said allows for monitoring of catch and other compliance measures to be enforced. PNA is also planning to implement a ban on high seas bunkering for fishing vessels by fuel tankers beginning in 2020. The decision to form the working group to review the 10-year-old WCPFC transshipment measure is critical, particularly in regard to longline vessels, which the PNA said engage in transshipment far more frequently than purse seiners.

“This review is critical to addressing the challenge of shortfalls in information from high-seas transshipment activities, particularly on longline vessels,” Kumoru said.

Additional progress was made by the WCPFC in its adoption of minimum labor standards for crew on fishing vessels in its waters, according to Kumoru.

“We are promoting action in support of human rights for fishers working in our fishery and that go to addressing concerns about trafficking in people and other illicit activities,” Kumoru said.

One critique leveled by Pew at the WCPFC was its decision to allow countries to carry over any unused annual quota for Pacific bluefin tuna.

“This is a dangerous precedent for a stock that is has been depleted by more than 97 percent and is just one year into a 16-year rebuilding plan,” Pew Associate Manager for Global Tuna Conservation said. “Countries should be focused on ending overfishing and increasing the health and size of the species, instead of looking for ways to increase their catch. This decision further highlights the need for a long-term, science-based harvest strategy. We urge the countries who are asking to increase their catch to also commit to funding the necessary work to ensure the Pacific bluefin fishery can be sustainable and well-managed.”

But WCPFC’s decision to adopt an interim target reference point for South Pacific albacore garnered further praise from the FFA. 

“This is a milestone for the management of the South Pacific albacore fishery,” Tupou-Roosen said. “We're really pleased with the outcomes from this commission meeting. We came into this week’s meeting with the position to maintain the strength of the existing tropical tuna measure – and this is what we accomplished.”


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