WWF: Bigeye tuna measures disappointing
While the commission made positive progress on conservation measures for seabirds, whale sharks, and satellite monitoring of fishing vessels, it failed to address two of the central species it is charged with managing, bigeye and albacore tuna.
”It was business as usual at the commission meeting, with the delegates from the 32 member states taking no steps to protect vulnerable bigeye tuna stocks,” said Bubba Cook, Tuna Programme Officer, WWF´s Smart Fishing Initiative.
“Instead of adopting basic measures to stop overfishing of bigeye tuna, the commission approved an amendment to the existing conservation and management measure that most believe will do little to effectively solve the problem. The newly approved measure is fraught with loopholes and exceptions that allow overfishing to continue,”
Overfishing of bigeye tuna is driving the species toward collapse and scientists have identified the use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) as one of the major factors in the decline.
Juvenile bigeye tuna tend to associate with floating objects, such as FADs, where industrial fishing vessels using purse seine nets frequently target skipjack tuna and, in the process, catch large numbers of the juvenile bigeye tuna as bycatch. The commission implemented a measure in 2008 that was supposed to reduce overfishing of juvenile bigeye tuna by placing limits on the use of FADs. Unfortunately, overfishing did not stop and it continued to increase.
“The WCPFC must take up its responsibility. At the moment, they are dragging their feet on bigeye conservation measures, particularly on reference points, which are a more discrete modern management tool that could help reduce or prevent bigeye overfishing,” said Cook.
The WCFPC makes decisions based on consensus. It only takes one country to prevent a measure from moving forward. This means that delegates of the commission often must engage in serious compromise and negotiation to accommodate the most obstinate delegates’ demands.
In the case of bigeye tuna, some of the delegates who favour the use of FADs lobbied extensively to maintain the status quo, which allows them to continue to prosecute the lucrative skipjack fishery at the expense of juvenile bigeye tuna, other associated bycatch species, and the overall ocean ecosystem. Moreover, the lack of action could have profound effects on the region’s coastal states by risking long-term food and economic security.
“Due to the lack of leadership among the member states of the WCPFC, the bigeye tuna stock in the Western Central Pacific Ocean will continue a downward spiral. If something is not done now, soon we may see the complete collapse of bigeye in the region.” said Cook.