Set in stone: 2021 rules and regulations for tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean

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School of tuna. Photo FabienForget, ISSF.
School of tuna. Photo FabienForget, ISSF.

The collapse of negotiations to regulate and manage tuna stocks in the Eastern Pacific Ocean last week is cause for international concern.

The ensuing lack of management oversight by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) for 2021, unless addressed urgently, will impact the viability and sustainability of not just the Eastern Pacific fishery but potentially the tuna stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) as well.

With the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) getting its 17th annual meeting underway this week, concern is heightened that the management of the world’s largest tuna stocks in the WCPO could face a similarly challenging path.

But that will not happen, according to Mr Eugene Pangelinan, the Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee, the largest bloc in the WCPFC – that of Pacific member states and participating territories taking up seats at the table.

“The good outcomes have already happened,” Mr Pangelinan told regional journalists on Monday during a Zoom panel discussion with senior management of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).

The good outcome Mr Pangelinan referred to was the withdrawal by the United States of its proposal to negotiate the Tropical Tuna Measure, and agreeing with the proposal from Pacific island members to “roll over” the current measure to 2021. (The Tropical Tuna Measure, CMM 2018-01, governs the conservation and management of bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tuna. It is due to expire in February 2021.)

“I think the US accepting the fact that this is not the environment to negotiate a very substantive measure, that has very dramatic impacts on small island developing states. And agreeing to just roll over next year, I think is a very good outcome already,” he said.

The point cannot be overstated that the US supporting the position FFA members have put forward, and now supported by others, will effectively allow the continuation of the status quo in 2021.

Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, the Director-General of FFA, provided more details confirming the significant impact of the US agreeing to the Pacific’s position to roll over.

“[It] has been a big win for all of the Commission [WCPFC] members; it’s not just FFA,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.

“Also, the recognition that it is harder to work through virtual platforms on quite complex measures such as the Tropical Tuna Measure, hence the agreement from the US, who continues to be a valued partner in this space, of their acceptance of this enabling the Tropical Tuna Measure could continue by rolling it over to next year.”

She admitted it did push all the work of renegotiating the measure to 2021.

“What we want to see coming out of this year is a clear process on how we will work this through with Commission members in the lead up to next year’s Commission meeting,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.

What is clear from the tone of Mr Pangelinan and Dr Tupou-Roosen is their confidence that the rules and regulations for tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean will remain firmly in place for 2021.

For more information from the Forum Fisheries Agency on WCPFC17, contact Hugh Walton, ph. +677 740 2428, email Hugh.Walton@ffa.int.