Fisheries Commission challenged to save Pacific albacore and bluefin tuna from economic extinction
If the WCPFC fails to act to save the Pacific bluefin stock, global conservation organization WWF and an alliance of NGOs will call for a complete moratorium on the commercial fishery.
WWF warns that the Pacific bluefin tuna stock, worth millions of dollars, is dangerously close to commercial, and potentially ecological, extinction, at just 2.6% of its historic biomass. Additionally, the South Pacific albacore stock decline is having profound negative economic impacts to the Small Island Developing States that are heavily dependent on the resource. This albacore stock has been steadily declining over the last two decades, as the number of foreign fishing vessels has risen dramatically.
At the December 5-9 meeting, the WCPFC will be urged to agree to a Target Reference Point (TRP) and Harvest Control Rules (HCRs), which are proven measures for preventing and reducing overfishing, for both South Pacific albacore and Pacific bluefin tuna, consistent with the workplan that was adopted last year.
WWF’s Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager, Bubba Cook, said adoption of a conservative TRP and HCR would represent a very simple step toward addressing the stocks’ decline.
“Those responsible for Pacific bluefin and South Pacific albacore management across the Pacific Ocean need to urgently institute adequate conservation measures for these fish stocks,” Mr Cook said.
“We are witnessing a continuing trend of the WCPFC to heavily water down or simply defer measures to address declining tuna stocks and cannot continue to just ‘kick the can down the road’ when thousands of livelihoods are at stake.”
As a shareholder in one of Fiji’s domestic longline fleets, Solander CEO Charles Hufflet, said “If it is not already, the WCPFC risks becoming completely irrelevant if it cannot agree to simple measures such as those proposed that can potentially reduce and control the excessive capacity in the fishery”.
The South Pacific albacore stock represents a pillar of many Small Island Developing State fishery economies.
In October 2016, Tri Marine International, one of the largest tuna producers in the region, announced that it would be closing its tuna processing plant in American Samoa, which is heavily dependent on albacore.
“How many processing plants and domestic fisheries must go out of business, and thousands of livelihoods affected, before the Commission acts?” Mr Cook asked.
“The situation with the Pacific bluefin stock is analogous to a gas tank running on empty – the red light on the dash board is flashing and we need act now and fast to fill up the tank or we will find ourselves stranded with no options.”
On the positive side, WWF is optimistic that the Commission will approve a proposal outlining flag state responsibilities for observer safety and security.
The WCPFC took an important first step last year on several measures implementing technology that will substantially improve observer safety and security.
Earlier this year, the United States introduced a proposal that would clearly outline the responsibilities and actions of the flag states to ensure the safety and security of observers that should result in tangible positive outcomes for observers.
"Adoption of this new proposal is crucial to ensure that flag states fully understand their responsibilities during instances of a death or disappearance of an observer as well as steps necessary to address threats, intimidation, and assault of observers,” Mr Cook said.
Following the death and disappearance of at least five fisheries observers throughout the Pacific in the past six years, WWF has campaigned for the WCPFC to rapidly improve observer safety and security, noting their critical role in collecting the fundamental scientific information used for managing the stocks.
Note to editors:
1 The WCPFC is responsible for the conservation and management of tuna and other marine resources in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. The members of the WCPFC are:
Australia, Canada, China, Cook Islands, European Community, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, Korea, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Chinese Taipei, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States of America, and Vanuatu.
2 The annual meeting of the WCPFC will take place in Nadi, Fiji, on December 5-9.
3. At this meeting, WWF will be calling for the WCPFC to urgently adopt effective and proven fisheries management measures including firm limits on the number of fishing vessels, reference point limits, firm harvest control rules, and improvements in the management of and limitations on Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs).
4. Last year, the WCPFC took an important step to further conservation and management of skipjack tuna by agreeing to a conservative Target Reference Point (TRP), a critical tool along with Harvest Control Rules (HCRs) for preventing and reducing overfishing. Unfortunately, it was unable to reach a similar agreement on the implementation of a TRP for South Pacific albacore tuna.
Alfred “Bubba” Cook, Western Central Pacific Ocean Tuna Programme Manager, WWF Marine Programme, Email: email@example.com. Phone: +64 027 833 0537