PORT MORESBY, 10 December 2019 – The Western and Central Pacific Commission (WCPFC) on Monday adopted safe handling guidelines for seabirds, a measure that will help protect seabirds from dying when they are accidentally caught during fishing. 

The Seabird Conservation and Management Measure that was adopted in 2018 (CMM 2018-03) was further supported with the Tuna Commission adopting supplementary non-binding guidelines for the safe handling and release of seabirds caught during fishing (known as bycatch).

According to WWF, bycatch in tuna longline fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) is one of the greatest threats to seabirds, particularly to albatrosses and petrels. 

Although there is has been a conservation and management measure for seabirds since 2006, it is estimated that between 13,000 and 19,000 seabirds continue to be caught a year. 

The guidelines received unanimous support from member and non-member states attending the 16th annual WCPFC meeting in Port Moresby.  

The head of the New Zealand delegation to WCPFC16, Ms Heather Ward, told Pacific reporters here that the protection of seabirds is a priority for NZ, given the diversity of seabirds, particularly albatross and petrel species, around New Zealand in the area south of 25°S. 

“New Zealand has the highest global diversity of albatross and petrel species in the world, with several species assessed as being at high or very high risk from commercial fisheries bycatch,” Ms Ward said. 

“This is why the protection of seabirds is of great importance to New Zealand.” 

She thanked the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) for its support in the adoption of the measure. 

The measure is aimed at meeting the requirements of paragraph 11 of CMM 2018-03: to ensure that seabirds captured alive are released alive. When safe handling procedures are implemented, seabirds are more likely to survive. 

Ms Ward said the advice has been tailored for the crews of fishing vessel and is available free in multiple languages. The guidelines are simple to follow, and the materials required to safely release seabirds (i.e. a towel or blanket, pliers, net, a box or bin, and gloves) are likely to be available on most longline vessels.

“We hope it will be possible for the WCPFC to adopt these guidelines under Agenda Item 8 as a further step towards the protection of vulnerable seabirds affected by longline fishing,” Ms Ward said.

WWF’s head of delegation to the WCPFC16, Mr Bubba Cook, noted in a media release that the adoption of the guidelines on how to remove hooks from seabirds, developed by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), would lead to less harm to seabirds, especially at the southern end of the WCPO region across all WCPFC longline and other hook fisheries. 

“While we are pleased that the WCPFC has taken the important step to implement these voluntary guidelines, we believe that they should be mandatory and subject to clear monitoring and compliance review,” he said. 

This message was further enforced by the executive secretary of ACAP, Dr Christine Bogle, who noted that now that the measure is in place, the challenge will be to ensure compliance. ACAP has presented an observer statement to WCPFC16 (WCPFC16–2019–OP08).

“Arguably, the single most important action to reduce bycatch is to increase compliance in the proper use of existing seabird bycatch regulations, such as this CMM 2018-03,” Dr Bogle said.