The WCFPC has toughened its stance on tuna fishing. It has extended fishing limits, expanded the official observer program, and made tougher rules against bycatch, including the compulsory use of non-entangling FADs.
Tougher rules to protect tuna stocks as well as boost struggling Pacific Island economies were the focus of Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) decisions at its recent annual policy-setting meeting.
The most important measures agreed to at the WCPFC15 meeting in Honolulu in December 2018 are:
setting a target reference point (TRP) for South Pacific albacore tuna, to balance the preservation of fish populations and economic needs
The rule applies to FADs to be deployed in or that will drift into the western and central Pacific Ocean. During discussion at WCPFC15, the European Union reported that it already used non-entangling FADs in other oceans, and that they had no impact on the amount of tuna caught. The WCPFC agreed that, to prevent animals becoming tangled up in FADs, fishing fleets should avoid using mesh if possible. However, if mesh is to be used:
the netting must be less than 7 cm when stretched, whether used on the raft or in the hanging “tail”
if the raft is covered, the mesh is to be wrapped securely so that animals cannot become enmeshed
any mesh used in a tail is to be tightly bundled and secured into “sausages” that are weighted so that the tail hangs straight down in the water column and remains taut.
It recommended a solid canvas sheet as a better option for the tail.
Biodegradable FADs recommended
The WCPFC flagged the introduction of biodegradable FADs, to reduce the amount of plastic rubbish in the ocean and that washes up on reefs and coastlines. The Scientific Committee (SC) and the Technical and Compliance Committee (TCC) are to present suitable designs by 2020.
FAD closure extended
The Commission also increased by two months a year the period in which FADs are banned from use in some areas. They were previously prohibited from 1 July to 30 September by purse seiners operating on the high seas and in exclusive economic zones (EEZs) between 20°N and 20°S. The ban is now extended for an extra two months on the high seas.
Protection zone extended to reduce seabird bycatch
Longline fishing vessels must use several approved measures to reduce the number of seabirds accidentally caught while fishing.
The measures were already in place for the Pacific Ocean south of 30°S. From 1 January 2020, that area will be extended, with vessels fishing between 25°S and 30°S to also use approved measures, although the EEZs of Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Tonga are exempt. The measures allowed are detailed in CMM 2018-03 and summarised in policies and rules on Sustainpacfish.
Seabird bycatch mitigation measures
North of 23oN:
large longline vessels of 24m or longer to use at least 2 mitigation measures, including at least one from Column A
small longline vessels of less than 24m to use at least one measure from Column A.
Between 25oS and 23oN:
longline vessels are encouraged to use at least one of these measures, and preferably more.
Side setting with a bird curtain and weighted branch lines
Night setting with minimum deck lighting
Deep-setting line shooter
Weighted branch lines
Management of offal discharge
The commission also amended the rules to conserve and manage turtles, but failed to agree on new measures for sharks.
Interim target set for catch of South Pacific albacore tuna
Pacific small island developing states cautiously hailed the adoption of limits to the catch of south Pacific albacore tuna. The limit, called a target reference point (TRP), tells fishing nations how many fish can be taken, based on the combined weight of all breeding-age individuals (called “spawning biomass”) of that species.
Catch rules clarified for Pacific bluefin tuna, and limits maintained for tropical tuna
The WCPFC clarified the catch rules for bluefin tuna so that, when a country exceeds its effort and catch limits in one year, the amount extra it has taken is deducted from the catch it is allowed the following year.
The Northern Committee of the WCPFC had argued for a catch-documentation scheme (CDS) to be applied to Pacific bluefin tuna to help bring populations of this depleted species back to sustainable levels. This will be developed as part of the conservation and management measure (CMM) on bluefin tuna. The goal of the CDS is to create a paper trail (physical or electronic) in fisheries to make it much more difficult to sell illegal, unreported or unregulated fish, since they wouldn’t have required documentation.
Despite some pressure to relax catch limits for the main commercial tropical tuna species—bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack—the WCPFC extended current limits for another two years. These three species are worth more than US$4.4 billion a year.
Reducing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing
Last year, the president of the Marshall Islands, Dr Hilda Heine, said: “A five-year target to eliminate IUU fishing by 2023 is bold, but the stakes are too high not to be audacious in the goals we set. If we are serious about combating IUU, we need a tougher mindset.”
Strengthen the observer network and compliance
WCPFC members agreed on several measures to strengthen compliance.
The Commission also expanded the compliance monitoring scheme (CMS), with some reporting information to be made publicly available online, and searchable. Flagging of alleged violations has also been formalised, with deadlines given for countries to address violation notices.
Calls to make work safe for fishing crews and observers