WCPFC committee, IATTC reach agreement to rebuild Pacific bluefin tuna population

Published on
September 1, 2017

Representatives from countries that fish for Pacific bluefin tuna have reached an agreement on a long-term plan to restore the species’ population. 

However, while conservationists applauded the pact, they said they now want to see the countries follow up their words with action.

The pact between members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s Northern Committee and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission was announced at the conclusion of the Northern Committee’s 13th Regular Session the morning of Friday, 1 September in Busan, South Korea. Details include:

  • Establishing a target goal of 20 percent of Pacific bluefin tuna’s historic population by 2034. Conservation officials said that would represent a seven-fold increase in the biomass over the next 17 years.
  • Maintaining catch quotas for the next seven years, and approving any increases in the limit only if there was a high probability it would not impact the targeted population goal.
  • Developing a plan by 2020 to reduce the amount of illegally caught Pacific bluefin tuna from entering the market.

The Northern Committee will recommend the WCPFC approve the measure at a meeting in December.

Conservationists have called on countries to take action to protect the Pacific bluefin tuna for years, warning the prized delicacy has been threatened due to extensive overfishing. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch initiative listed the fish as one to avoid, claiming that commercial fishing interests were targeting juveniles that had yet to reach spawning age.

Activists have estimated the Pacific bluefin tuna’s population to be about 17,000 tons, or less than three percent of its historic population.

Last week, the aquarium released a statement indicating nearly 200 chefs and other culinary leaders have agreed to not market the fish until countries took measures to rebuild the population. Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry also voiced his support for strong measures to protect the fish, which is typically sold in sushi restaurants.

Margaret Spring, the aquarium’s chief conservation officer, called the agreement “a historic moment” but she added that the action now needs to follow the words.

“We must remain vigilant and keep nations accountable so the Pacific bluefin tuna population can stay on a path to recovery,” she said. “This will require all Pacific nations to follow through on their responsibilities.”

Amanda Nickson, director of global tuna conservation for the Pew Charitable Trusts, echoed those sentiments. The trust had called for a moratorium on fishing if the countries could not reach an agreement.

“The international community's work is not done yet,” Nickson said. “It is just beginning. Four out of five countries that catch Pacific bluefin have exceeded their quotas in the last two years, which has further endangered the species and its recovery.”

If the WCPFC approves the agreement, then the member countries will be commitment to following the plan. When that happens, Spring said Seafood Watch will consider changing the Pacific bluefin’s rating.

“Chefs and businesses will want to see some significant improvements before they consider serving Pacific bluefin tuna,” she said.

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