Pacific nations call on WCPFC members to combat impacts of climate change on tuna fisheries

by Bernadette Carreon | 10 December 2019 | News

Tuna is a precious resource in the WCPO Pacific Islands, but economies may suffer as tuna move east because of changes in the climate. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

Republished from SeafoodSource, 9 December 2019

Pacific fisheries officials are calling on the members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) to band together and commit to a climate action plan during the commission’s 16th annual meeting.

Any plan needs to take into account the impact of climate change on fish stocks.

In a statement ahead of the week-long Tuna Commission meeting here in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, the 17-member Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) is “therefore calling on the WCPFC to collectively take stronger action on climate change”.

FFA introduced a resolution at the WCPFC urging the commission to:

  • Fully recognise the impacts of climate change, in particular on the fisheries, food security and livelihoods of small island developing states (SIDS) and territories.
  • Take into account in its deliberations, including in the development of conservation and management measures, the impacts of climate change on target stocks, non-target species, and species belonging to the same ecosystem or dependent on or associated with the target stocks.
  • Estimate the carbon footprint of fishing and related activities in the Convention Area for fish stocks managed by the Commission, and develop appropriate measures to reduce such footprint.
  • Develop options such as carbon offsets to decrease the collective carbon footprint of CCMs and the WCPFC Secretariat associated with meetings of the Commission and its subsidiary bodies.

Tuvalu Minister of Fisheries and Trade Mr Minute Alapati Taupo told Pacific journalists that although climate change was not a problem that his nation had caused, the impacts of climate change would fall on the Pacific, and would threaten the benefits of the region’s tuna fisheries.

“Climate change is not a problem that Tuvalu has caused – but we are going to suffer the effects,” Mr Taupo said.

Pacific Community (SPC) fisheries scientist Dr Graham Pilling said climate modelling shows that, as the climate warms, tuna will move to the east and while some Pacific island nations may benefit from the movement, the others will see a reduction in the fish.

He said it further indicates that fish “will move to the high seas and the overall amount of fish will reduce”.

Dr Pilling said that the major impacts of climate change “are predicted to occur after 2050, with some signs before that time”.

Four maps showing movement of two species of tuna, skipjack and yellowfin, from western Pacific Ocean eastwards as a result of changes in the ocean with climate change. Source Pacific Community policy brief 2019
Projected distributions of skipjack and yellowfin tuna in the Pacific Ocean in 2005, and in 2050, under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario. The maps show a general movement east. Source: SPC

FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said climate change is an important issue that the Pacific islands face at the moment and into the future.

“Climate change is the defining challenge of our generation and the impact on Pacific Island countries is particularly threatening, given that tuna fisheries provide significant economic, social and cultural benefits,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said in a statement flagging FFA’s concerns before WCPFC16.

“FFA is asking for increased attention by Commission scientists on the implications of climate change for the region’s tuna stocks and consideration of what conservation and management measures can be put in place to reduce the carbon footprint of both Commission activities and fishing in Pacific waters managed by the Commission. Our members are proposing a resolution on climate change,” she said.

Tuna fishing brings in multiple billions of dollars in revenue for the Pacific island nations. According to the SPC policy brief, tuna caught in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) averaged 2.7 million tonnes a year between 2014 and 2018, with harvests from the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the Pacific nations representing 58% of this catch.

According to FFA, in 2018 the value of the provisional total tuna catch was US$6.01 billion (AU$8.92 billion, €5.41 billion), which was marginally higher than for 2017 and the highest since 2013.