What is at stake at the 11th Meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, Apia, Samoa, 1-5 December | WWF

What is at stake at the 11th Meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, Apia, Samoa, 1-5 December

Posted on 20 November 2014    
Alfred "Bubba" Cook, Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager, WWF Smart Fishing Initiative
© WWF SFI
Interview with Alfred “Bubba” Cook, Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager, WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative who will participate in the 11th Regular Meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Apia, Samoa, from 1-5 December. At the meeting WCPFC members will again try to address continuing overfishing on the region’s bluefin and bigeye tuna stock as well as declining abundance in all other stocks. 

The ecologically important and lucrative tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific show continuing declines, with Pacific bluefin tuna and bigeye tuna reaching a dire state.  The bigeye tuna stock is now at only 16% of its historic population and is technically classified as overfished and experiencing overfishing.  Pacific bluefin tuna is in an even more grim state at less than 4% its historic population and with only a tiny breeding stock now approaching the end of its lifecycle holding up that population.  Thus, the fate of these and other tuna stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean depends on fishing nations’ support for implementing strong measures to protect these stocks at this meeting.

What decisions must be made at this meeting?

Member state representatives of the WCPFC must urgently address the current state of bigeye tuna and Pacific bluefin tuna.  The best science indicates that the bluefin tuna in the North Pacific is in very poor condition at less than 4% its historic biomass.  Therefore, the WCPFC must urgently adopt measures comparable to those recommended by the International Scientific Committee (ISC) and the scientific staff of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) to stop and reverse the overfishing that is occurring which has left the population heavily overfished.  The IATTC has taken some steps to addressing the issue in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, but, because Pacific bluefin is a transboundary stock spanning across the Pacific, those measures will be meaningless if the WCPFC does not also adopt a rescue plan to restore the stock as a whole.

The WCPFC must also address the continued decline of the bigeye tuna stock. Science produced by fisheries scientists working in the Pacific continues to show that the bigeye tuna stock is below the limit necessary to maintain the stock, despite multiple measures taken over the last decade to reverse the decline. This continued negative trajectory unequivocally reveals conservation and management measures (CMMs) adopted by WCPFC have been ineffective for bigeye tuna conservation.  Therefore, member states must take effective action at the 2014 WCPFC meeting to reduce bigeye mortality by at least 36 percent, which is the scientifically recommended amount. Management measures must be simple and enforceable as too often fishermen have exploited loopholes in the measures that have allowed continued overfishing.  All member states must be prepared to negotiate and implement new CMMs in good faith to ensure the future of the bigeye tuna resource together with other valuable tuna stocks in the region

What is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving better management of tuna stocks in this region?

There are actually several, but one of the most prominent obstacles to achieving proper conservation and management of the Western and Central Pacific tuna fisheries is the continuing refusal of several nations to provide basic information on the operation of their fishing fleets.  China, Japan, Korea and Chinese Taipei have large fishing fleets operating in the Pacific, but have never provided the operational level data, made up mostly of basic catch and effort information, despite this information being required by regulation.  This completely undermines the effectiveness of the WCPFC CMMs, monitoring/control/surveillance (MCS) tools, the work of the scientists, and overall transparency.  It also provides an unfair advantage to those nations because their compliance with management measures cannot be evaluated or measured.  Moreover, it continues to place an unfair conservation burden on other WCPFC members who are implementing the conservation measures in good faith consistent with international law.  This intentional disregard of international law and regulations through refusal to provide operational level data from these countries must end and, therefore, must be addressed by the Commission at its upcoming WCPFC meeting as an urgent priority.

What are WWF’s main asks for the meeting?

For Pacific bluefin tuna, we are asking the WCPFC to take some very common sense, fundamental fisheries management measures such as adopt a long-term plan for the recovery of the Pacific bluefin tuna, with proposed limits and target reference points and well defined harvest control rules. In addition a catch documentation system must be developed to ensure the monitoring and control of the catches.

Likewise, for bigeye tuna and the other tropical tuna stocks, we just want the WCPFC to adopt a measure proposed by Australia to establish a Harvest Strategy, a very basic, but fundamental component, as well as adopt a specific target reference point to serve as a benchmark for the skipjack tuna stock.  These represent essential fisheries management tools that should have been in place long before now and it is simply time for the WCPFC to finally make some progress on instituting them.

We are also asking the WCPFC to take some very basic steps to provide for protection of vulnerable shark species, such as oceanic whitetip and silky sharks, which are so heavily depleted that their retention is prohibited.  We are recommending adoption of a Comprehensive Shark CMM that includes efforts to mandate bycatch best practices through better data collection and implementation of mitigation measures such as banning wire traces and the use of targeted shark lines.  

What will WWF do if the fishing nations again fail to reach an agreement on catch reductions for the Pacific Bluefin tuna?

Similar to our position for the IATTC, if sufficient management measures are not adopted at this meeting, fishing should not be permitted to continue on such a depleted stock. This stock faces commercial, and ultimately biological, extinction and WWF simply cannot stand by and allow that to happen.  The WCPFC member states, specifically Japan and Korea, must agree to drastically reduced catches in the Western and Central Pacific consistent with those recommended by the IATTC in the Eastern Pacific.
Alfred "Bubba" Cook, Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager, WWF Smart Fishing Initiative
© WWF SFI Enlarge

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