Island fisheries reps disappointed

Despite significant efforts of Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Chairperson Rhea Moss-Christian (pictured, left), the Commission failed to support calls by Pacific islands for controls on high seas fishing and stepped-up monitoring of tuna catches. Photo: Helen Greig.
Despite significant efforts of Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Chairperson Rhea Moss-Christian (pictured, left), the Commission failed to support calls by Pacific islands for controls on high seas fishing and stepped-up monitoring of tuna catches. Photo: Helen Greig.

Five days of exhaustive talks at the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) yielded mixed results for Pacific island states. But the Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA) said it was “deeply disappointed with the failure” of the WCPFC “to reach an amicable solution on bigeye tuna that would address its overfished status.”

Squaring off against powerful distant water fishing countries, Pacific nations brought proposals to the meeting to reduce catches and curb illegal fishing. Among the major successes, members were able to agree on a target reference point for skipjack tuna — the Pacific’s most valuable stock.

“That is a really fundamental measure on a fundamental stock,” said Wez Norris, deputy director-general of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency. “It paves the way towards the development of more robust and strategic management frameworks.”

Norris pointed out several areas where the commission failed to deliver, including setting a target reference point for Albacore tuna — the most important commercial species for the southern Pacific countries. FFA member states have set their sights on reducing catches by 40 per cent after scientists assessed the stock to be more “fragile” than previously thought.

“We are deeply disappointed that such an important stock is going to lag behind a year in terms of the development of a harvest strategy,” he said.

The commission also failed to agree on measures designed to curb illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, such as increased surveillance and a ban on tuna transshipment in the high seas.

“It is very worrying that these flag states remain far more interested in defending the operational convenience of their vessels rather than putting in place proper management measures and enforcing those management measures,” said Norris.

“The amount of time members spent this week negotiating the future of bigeye tuna, with no resulting management outcomes to end overfishing, has prevented discussions on other important measures that would protect declining shark populations and help enforcement agencies curtail illegal fishing, such as adopting minimum standards for port controls,” Amanda Nickson, director of Global Tuna Conservation at the Washington-based Pew Charitable Trusts.

PNA chairman Eugene Pangelinan said they had presented a balanced package of longline and purse seine proposals for the meeting and they had received wide support, but in the end were blocked by several distant water fishing nations.

“We want to acknowledge in particular the support of other Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency Members and the European Union,” Pangelinan said Tuesday in Bali. But, he said, the WCPFC’s “continuing failure to improve measures to conserve and manage the tropical tunas, especially bigeye tuna, is undermining sustainable development opportunities of our people.

Pangelinan saluted the efforts of chairperson Rhea Moss-Christian in trying hard to get WCPFC members to come to some common ground but said it was evident that certain foreign fishing nations were determined to derail the whole process.

Read more about this in the December 11, 2015 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.

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