The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission will hold its regular annual session from 7 to 15 December, with the renewal of the tropical tuna measure on bigeye, skipjack, and yellowfin billed as the main topic up for discussion.
The meeting, WCPFC17, has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced the commission to meet virtually, according to WCPFC Executive Director Feleti Teo.
“Due to the constraints of the Zoom online meeting platform, the agenda of the WCPFC17 has been substantially pared back to focus principally on essential issues that the commission is required to consider and take decision [on] in 2020 to ensure the continuity of the work of the commission and its secretariat in 2021 and onward years,” Teo said.
The conservation and management of the three tropical tuna species – bigeye, skipjack, and yellowfin – will be a focus of the meeting. The tropical tuna measure applicable to these species, which has been in place for three years and regulates tuna catch in the region, is set to expire after 10 February, 2021. It ensures skipjack, bigeye, and yellowfin tuna stocks are maintained at recent average levels and capable of producing maximum sustainable yield.
According to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the value of the provisional total tuna catch in 2018 was AUD 8.9 billion (USD 6 billion, EUR 5.4 billion) – marginally higher than it was in 2017, and the highest seen since 2013. In its key priorities paper submitted to WCPFC ahead of the meeting, FFA proposed a continuation of the existing measure, given the constraints of negotiating via the online platforms.
“FFA members therefore propose the commission facilitates a rollover of the measure to ensure this critical CMM does not lapse and the current objectives for yellowfin and bigeye tuna are maintained until such time as target reference point can be agreed following the appropriate level of discussion. We note this approach to deferring substantive negotiations is consistent with that taken by other RFMOs this year and will be familiar to WCPFC [members] who are also members of those organizations,” Forum Fisheries Committee Chair Eugene Pangelinan said in the paper.
FFA acknowledged that COVID-19 has created obstacles to progressing on key commission issues during 2020, “in particular, the difficulties many members face with online connectivity and participation in discussions which may have significant outcomes for their national interests.”
Glen Holmes, who serves as an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts international fisheries program, said the dominant topic of discussion in the upcoming meeting will be the tropical tuna measure.
“Even though there is a general desire to do as little negotiations possible this year, they have to deal with the tuna measure,” Holmes said.
Holmes said the most appropriate thing for WCPFC members to do is rollover the measure for another 12 months, and maintain the current guidelines until more substantive discussions can be made among the delegates.
In Pew’s position paper submitted to WCPFC, the NGO called for management of the three tuna stocks, in an effort to ensure uninterrupted continuation. It added that the management of those tuna should be supported by the goal of implementing fully-specified harvest strategies, including maintaining bigeye and yellowfin populations at or above 2012-2015 levels until target reference points are adopted, and without increasing the risk of breaching the limit reference point.
Holmes said it was a huge missed opportunity for the commission not to discuss issues of harvest management strategies in last year’s meeting. It is crucial that the commission create a Science Management Dialogue Working Group, he added, to accelerate development of harvest strategies. Holmes said one thing positive about the COVID-19 travel restrictions is that there are opportunities to form the working group.
Pew is also urging WCPFC to improve oversight of fishing activities. The NGO said, with the temporary removal of fishery observers from vessels due to the pandemic, the commission should work to finalize recommendations for electronic monitoring on vessels as a cost-effective way to improve data collection and augment human observer coverage.
Teo said the WCPFC17 will also cover the limits and allocation for the high-seas purse-seine fishery and bigeye longline fishery.
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