NGOs call on WCPFC to adopt harvest control rules, tighten scrutiny of FAD use

A tuna purse seine vessel in the Pacific ocean.

As the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) kicks off its 20th regular session from 4 to 8 December, nongovernmental organizations are calling on the commission to establish harvest control rules, tighten scrutiny of fish aggregating device (FAD) use, and maintain levels of observer coverage. 

The WCPFC, which manages tuna fisheries in some of the most productive regions of the world,  adopted a management procedure (MP) for skipjack tuna at its previous meeting in December 2022, but made the move non-binding. A management procedure is a set of rules used to steer management actions on a species based on data, that then uses pre-agreed guidelines – or harvest control rules – to determine fishing pressure on the species.

The WCPFC decided to make the MP for skipjack non-binding at the behest of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), a group of eight countries in the region. The PNA said it wanted to retain the ability to adjust harvests in order to keep stability in its “vessel-day scheme” sales. Despite the non-binding nature of the agreement, the Marine Stewardship Council, which had threatened to revoke its certification of WCPFC-managed skipjack if an MP was not adopted, said it was satisfied. 

In a position statement released ahead of the meeting, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation called on the WCPFC to adopt a new conservation measure that implements the 2023 skipjack MP, and ensure the MP is effectively implemented. It also called on the WCPFC to implement a harvest control rule for North Pacific albacore, and to continue developing MPs for bigeye and yellowfin tuna.

“This year, it must operationalize these MPs by implementing the outputs of the skipjack management procedure in the revised tropical tuna measure and by adopting a harvest control rule for North Pacific albacore,” ISSF President Susan Jackson said.

ISSF also called for the WCPFC to adopt an improved compliance process, and to open its assessment process to observers. 

“The WCPFC is the only tuna RFMO with a compliance assessment process that is closed to accredited observers,” Jackson said.  “That’s why our position statement leads with a call for the commission to develop guidelines for the observer participation in compliance assessment processes.”

The ISSF asked the commission to tighten its measures on the use of FADs and to establish a timeline to transition to biodegradable FADs, and to adopt positioning requirements. The issue of FADs was also a sticking point for Accountability.Fish, which called on the commission to both tighten its scrutiny of the practice and to open up its compliance processes to outside observers.

Accountability Fish said a report by the Environmental Justice Foundation found that FADs were likely being illegally deployed by South Korean-affiliated carrier vessels. One of the vessels in question, the Sun Flower 7, was prevented from unloading its catch in Thailand after being accused of participating in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and the vessel's owners were eventually sanctioned by the South Korean government. 

“But after this sanction, the illegal deployment of FADs continued. As a matter of fact, the fine to the Sun Flower 7 did not end its practice of illegally deploying FADs,” Accountability.Fish said.

The organization called on the commission to eliminate the “legal wiggle room” in its regulations. The issue could be partially solved by ... 

Photo courtesy of the ISSF/Fabien Forget


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