Tuna Commission moves to protect seabirds from bycatch

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Looking for seabirds diving onto baited hooks. The new WCPFC guideline aims to prevent these birds dying. Photo: Francisco Blaha.

Republished from Radio New Zealand, 11 December 2019

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission has moved to further safeguard seabirds from becoming tuna bycatch.

Last year, it adopted the Seabird Conservation and Management Measure.

Now the commission, which is holding its annual meeting in Port Moresby, is releasing guidelines on the safe handling and release of seabirds.

Conservation organisation WWF said tuna longline fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific were one of the greatest threats to seabirds, particularly albatrosses and petrels.

While the commission has had a measure to protect seabirds since 2006, it is estimated up to 19,000 continue to be caught annually.

The measure is aimed at ensuring that seabirds captured alive are released alive. When safe handling procedures are implemented, seabirds have higher chances of survival.

WWF’s Bubba Cook said it was pleased that the Commission had taken steps to implement the voluntary guidelines.

“[However,] we believe that they should be mandatory and subject to clear monitoring and compliance review,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Forum Fisheries Agency is confident there will be progress on its priority issues on the last day of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in Port Moresby.

The FFA’s key goal is to have the Tuna Commission adopt its climate change resolution, which calls for improved conservation and management practices and the use of more efficient and cleaner operating systems.

The FFA’s director general, Manu Tupou-Roosen, said of the big emitters and other member countries from outside the Pacific: “They have been consulted here by our members and have been supportive of this resolution.”

Japan remains a key partner in Pacific Tuna Fisheries

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Tuna continues to be a delicacy in Japan.

Japan is known for its love affair with seafood. If we say tuna, we think of sushi and sashimi – two of the most famous dishes in Japanese cuisine.

Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials told visiting Pacific Islands journalists in Tokyo last month that a sizeable amount of tuna Japan consumes are sourced from the Japanese vessels licensed to fish in the Pacific region.

Japan is a major fisher of tuna species in the Pacific region; Japan officials said: “fishing is very important to Japan.”

To protect valuable marine resources and to ensure the sustainability of fish stocks, Japan’s Free and Open Indo Pacific Strategy includes a commitment to peace and stability, including assistance to the Pacific in enhancing maritime safety and stability.

This year, Palau and Japan are celebrating 25-years of diplomatic ties that “friendship” Japan’s aid has delivered a wide range of projects from infrastructure, health, education, maritime security, and climate change.

According to the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) data, the Japanese imports from FFA members was valued at US $41 million in 2016, with Palau and Fiji as the main supplier of tuna sashimi grade products to the Japanese market.

Japan has been an important diplomatic partner to Palau in improving awareness of activities in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Boosting its marine surveillance, a Japan-funded patrol boat called PSS Kedam in now serving as the additional patrol boat for Palau.

The new patrol boat Kedam is funded with the grant by the Nippon Foundation at a cost of over $30 million, Kedam is expected to enhance Palau’s marine surveillance capabilities and police its s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

At the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), Japan is one of the key players pushing for measures to conserve fish stocks, recognizing its economic importance to Pacific island nations.

Japan was also instrumental in keeping catches of juvenile tuna to below 2002–04 average levels as a conservation measure.

The government of Japan continues to assure island nations of support given that the Pacific islands states are large ocean states that are custodians of the world’s largest tuna fishery.

The WCPO share of the global catch of albacore, bigeye, skipjack, and yellowfin tunas is between 55% and 58%. In 2016 the total catch of tuna species s was 2.7 million tonnes which 56% of global production of 4.8 million tonnes, according to FFA.