WWF calls for an end to overfishing in the Western and Central Pacific



Posted on 02 December 2013  | 
Cairns, Australia: Strongly concerned that the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) might fail again to implement effective measures to end overfishing of tuna at its annual meeting in Cairns, Australia next week, WWF calls for effective and decisive action.

“The viability of the Western and Central Pacific tuna fishery should not be at risk because of short term economic interests. Without drastic measures, we could see the collapse of the bigeye tuna stock in the next few years, which will have direct impacts on other important tuna fisheries,” said Alfred Cook, WWF´s Western Central Pacific Tuna Programme Officer.

"WWF calls on the Commission to follow scientific recommendations to substantially reduce the bigeye tuna catch,” said Cook.

Over the last years, WWF has continuously been calling upon the WCPFC to adopt effective fisheries management measures including firm limits on the number of fishing vessels and reductions in the reliance on Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs).

Despite precipitous declines in the bigeye, yellowfin, and albacore tuna stocks, the measures implemented by WCPFC have been insufficient and too late. This is especially the case with bigeye tuna, a favoured sushi species, where the stock is overfished and experiencing continued overfishing.

“It’s really disappointing,” said Cook. “Just a few years ago, there was a lot of hope that the WCPFC, as the newest and, arguably, most successful tuna regional fisheries management organisation (RFMO), would be able to overcome the myopic self-interest and politics that have hamstrung RFMOs in other regions.”

Too many vessels and in particular increasing distant water fleets fishing for too few fish constitutes one of the central problems contributing to overfishing in the region.

Despite repeated calls to reduce the number of vessels fishing for tuna in the region, the number of vessels continues to increase, with at least 45 more purse seiners currently under construction in Asian shipyards and expected to join 297 fishing boats already operating in the region, setting an all-time high. This excess of fishing capacity will undoubtedly lead to additional sustainability problems in the region.

The problem of overcapacity is not limited to the purse seine sector. Rapidly increasing capacity in the longline fishery from several distant water fishing nations is creating similar problems in the albacore tuna fishery.

While the albacore stock is not in the same dire condition as the bigeye tuna stock, the albacore population has plummeted over the last decade, making it less economical to operate and throwing the domestic small island state fisheries into turmoil.

Grahame Southwick, owner of the Fiji Fish Company, says the failure of the WCPFC to act has devastated the Pacific Island domestic long line fishery.

“We’ve worked tirelessly and responsibly to ensure the sustainability of the albacore fishery in Fiji, even securing the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-certification, only to have our fishery decimated by an ever-expanding distant water fleet from Asia.” said Southwick.

“For years, we’ve been asking the WCPFC and the various national governments in the region to address the longline fleet overcapacity, but our requests seem to have fallen on deaf ears.” Southwick and other albacore fishermen in the region continue to insist that something must urgently be done to address not only the excess fishing capacity from Asia, but also the subsidies provided from Asian states to their vessels that make it impossible for domestic fleets to compete economically.

There is some positive momentum, however. WWF has engaged a large group of responsible buyers, harvesters, processors, and traders, in making a pledge to the WCFPC Commission to support well-planned and designed tuna fishery improvement and conservation initiatives to sustain livelihoods, minimise environmental impacts and supply the world with responsibly-managed, high quality tuna through certification according to the MSC standards.

The world community, including the markets that purchase tuna from the region, are demanding the WCPFC take action. WWF and others are hoping that, despite the pessimism, the WCPFC will take decisive and effective measures to conserve the region’s important tuna stocks this year.

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, 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, Vanuatu

2 The annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) will take place in Cairns, Australia, on December 2-6.

For more detailed information:
• Alfred Cook, Western Central Pacific Ocean Tuna Programme Manager, WWF Smart Fishing Initiative, Email: acook@wwfpacific.org.fj. Phone: +679 903 5008

About WWF
WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with more than 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.

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Fisherman with tuna catch, Philippines.
© WWF-Canon / Jürgen Freund Enlarge

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