Glimmer of hope as tuna negotiations enter their fourth day

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There is a level of optimism that this year’s Tuna Commission will make some small progress on issues of importance to the Pacific.

The Director General of the Forum Fisheries Agency James Movick and his PNA counterpart Ludwig Kumoru told a media briefing that even though it is still early in the talks there are signs of a better outcome than last year.

The WCPFC is responsible for setting the fishing rules in the world’s biggest fishery but because it includes fishing powers as well as Pacific nations it has been hard to make progress.

Mr Movick said this year the tone of discussions has not been so negative or pessimistic and he sees progress on small but important issues such as risk management in setting catch targets.

Tonga’s Director of Fisheries, Dr Tu’ikolongahau Halafihi told Radio Tonga News in Nadi that arguments always happen especially when the parties do not agree on issues such as management measures to be imposed on the fishing industry.

Dr Halafihi said big distance water fishing countries are insisting on their agenda in-terms of their fishing activities while small groups are pushing their own needs and what is required from big countries.

For him there are very sensitive issues and although he does not really expect that they will achieve much but it’s an opportunity for member countries of the Tuna Commission to conduct more dialogue on those issues.

Dr Halafihi explained that Tonga in some cases has to meet limits on its annual catch of about 2,500 tons.

Tonga has not been able to achieve this limit, Dr Halafihi said, so it shows something needs to be done.

That’s why Tonga got involved on the Tokelau Arrangement, working on preserving Albacore and ensuring of sustainable fishing practices.

Meanwhile the FFA Director-General said officials in the working groups seemed to think that they will get a good draft on the important issue of risk management in setting catch targets.

The WCPFC also took an important step in trying to find a solution for continuing overfishing on severely depleted Pacific Bluefin which is now down to just 2.6 per cent or its pre-fishing stocks.

The meeting in Nadi took the unusual step or ordering the Northern Committee which makes recommendations on Bluefin to go back and try harder to find a solution to the Bluefin dilemma.

Mr Movick said until now the fishing nations involved in the northern committee have been very resistant to improving Bluefin management bringing the whole WCPFC into disrepute.

As Bluefin is not found in Pacific Island waters it is something that the Pacific Islands Party has no role in it but Mr Movick said it is a very encouraging sign that as a result the very frank and open discussion the northern committee has been asked to reconvene.

One of the big issues for the Pacific is achieving a new tropical tuna measure for skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna at next year’s meeting.

For this to be a success t incremental steps are needed this year.

Mr Movick said although on Tuesday negotiations looked a bit rocky they now seem to be holding on to a course compatible with the fundamental fisheries interests of Pacific countries.