South West Pacific Longline Caught Albacore: Going, Going, Gone?
WWF recognises the legitimate aspirations of Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to increase the value from tuna fisheries in their exclusive economic zones.
There is however, considerable concern about the rapid growth in the longline fleets from both the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) and Chinese Taipei (i.e. as referred to in WCPFC) in the Western and Central Pacific amongst WWF, Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) fishery managers, and domestic vessel owners in these SIDS.
Of the total South Pacific Albacore (SPA) catch of 75,000 tonnes (2010), Chinese and Chinese Taipei catch has increased from 24,000 (2000-2004) to 53,000 tonnes.
This catch is derived from around 300 vessels registered in China and Chinese Taipei, but also a growing fleet of 300 plus vessels now fishing under charter, or reflagging to the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Fiji, Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Kiribati.
Growing China and Chinese Taipei fishing activity is believed to have increased both in response to a rapid building strategy of new cost efficient vessels, to economic incentives and support and to fleets transferring from the Indian Ocean, in response to the piracy problems there.
As well as finding homes in Pacific Island Countries (PICs), these vessels are also increasing their effort on the high seas, which makes up around half of the total WCPO catch. This growth in effort is leading to localised depletion of the adult stock, and increased effort south of 20⁰S, on the juvenile migrating stock, which is contributing to a reduction in biomass, and with the stock rapidly approaching MSY. Equally, all fleets are now experiencing significant reductions in catch per unit effort (CPUE) in response to an increase in adult fishing mortality.
The effectiveness of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) Conservation and Management Measure (CMM) 2005-02, as amended in 2010, to protect the southern Albacore stock, is now questionable, albeit that the scientists still maintain that the stock remains within biological limits.
This increase in effort will also likely have a significant impact on the other target species - bigeye and yellowfin tunas. The achievement in reducing effort by the Japanese and Korean longline fleet on these stocks could well be undermined by the increasing catches from China and Chinese Taipei.
This increase in longline activity also poses an increasing threat to oceanic shark populations caught as bycatch and which now appear to be showing signs of rapid depletion.
Similarly, fishery impacts on turtles and birds require constant monitoring. Again, whilst fully supporting the legitimate aspirations of SIDS, within a robust and responsible sustainability framework to develop domestic fisheries – as required under CMM 2005-02/2010-05 - anecdotal industry evidence indicates that there is a serious problem with over-licensing in a number of WCPO SIDS.
WWF supports the efforts of the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Te Vaka Moana, (TVM) and its member countries, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), other PICS with target albacore fisheries, the Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association (PITIA) and other non-aligned Parties to strengthen the management strategy for the albacore longline fishery and to address the related species interaction issues.
Measures aimed at introducing effective capacity limits and effort management must be urgently addressed by WCPFC and the region’s domestic fisheries managers.