WCPFC17 expects to carry over vital Tropical Tuna Measure in this year’s virtual meeting

Categories News, NewsPosted on

The virtual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission kicked off this week with one of the anticipated positive outcomes being the rollover of the Tropical Tuna Measure on bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin.

The meeting, which is normally held face to face, is this year being held via Zoom amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC) Chair Eugene Pangelinan, in a Zoom media conference with the journalists on Monday, said that members were coming into the meeting already agreeing to the rollover of the Tropical Tuna Measure, which is set to expire after 10 February 2021. (The measure is formally known as CMM 2018-01, Conservation and management measure for bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.)

Mr Pangelinan said there had been an initial proposal in November from the United States to make changes in the existing measure that also included the removal of two-month FAD closure on the high seas and a request for an additional 760 fishing days to the high-seas purse-seine effort limit. However, Mr Pangelinan said on Monday, this proposal had been withdrawn, and was now deferred until next year.

Mr Pangelinan said the US had realised that negotiations in an online platform could be difficult. 

“All these preparations for this Commission meeting and the bilateral meetings we had with our partners have produced some really good results. The US is accepting the fact that this is not the environment for negotiating substantive measures, which will have a dramatic impact on small Island developing states. Agreeing to just roll over the Tropical Tuna Measure until next year is already a good outcome,” he said. 

In the Forum Fisheries Agencies (FFA) list of key priorities, which was circulated before WCPFC17 began, the agency proposed that the Commission facilitate a rollover of the measure to make sure it did not lapse.

The FFA recommendation is that the current objectives for yellowfin and bigeye tuna be maintained until such time as a target reference point could be agreed “following the appropriate level of discussion”.

FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said that most WCPFC members, including FFA member countries, recognised before the meeting began that it was important to roll over the tuna measure. This was already a successful outcome of the meeting, she said.

The Tropical Tuna Measure is a three-year agreement that governs the tuna catch in the region.

In 2018, the value of the provisional total tuna catch was US$6.01 billion, according to data from FFA. For many Pacific Island nations, the tuna fisheries are their economic lifeline. The current Tropical Tuna Measure maintains a framework whereby, with current levels of catch, tuna stocks are harvested at sustainable levels. 

FFA also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic and associated ban on travel and face-to-face meetings have challenged the ability to progress key Commission issues during 2020, “in particular with the difficulties many members face with online connectivity and participation in discussions, which may have significant outcomes for their national interests”.

Dr Tupou-Roosen said that FFA members also needed to ensure there was open discussion on the current Compliance Monitoring Scheme to ensure that member nations were following their obligations.

FFA also noted the need to progress discussions on climate change, crew and observer safety, and the enhancing of electronic reporting and monitoring to complement the work of human observers. Regional and national fisheries observer programs are currently very challenged by the pandemic.

FFA Deputy Director-General Matt Hooper also lauded WCPFC members, who, despite the inability to meet in-person, had agreed to be on the same page to roll over the Tropical Tuna Measure.

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

WCPFC to consider rollover of Tropical Tuna Measure in upcoming virtual meeting

Categories News, NewsPosted on

Republished from SeafoodSource, 4 December 2020

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) will hold its regular annual session from 7 to 15 December, with the renewal of the tropical tuna measure on bigeye, skipjack, and yellowfin billed as the main topic up for discussion.  

The meeting, WCPFC17, has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced the commission to meet virtually, according to WCPFC Executive Director Feleti Teo.

“Due to the constraints of the Zoom online meeting platform, the agenda of the WCPFC17 has been substantially pared back, to focus principally on essential issues that the commission is required to consider and take decision [on] in 2020 to ensure the continuity of the work of the commission and its secretariat in 2021 and onward years,” Mr Teo said.

The conservation and management of the three tropical tuna species – bigeye, skipjack, and yellowfin – will be a focus of the meeting. The tropical tuna measure [CMM 2018-01] applicable to these species, which has been in place for three years and regulates tuna catch in the region, is set to expire after 10 February 2021. It ensures skipjack, bigeye, and yellowfin tuna stocks are maintained at recent average levels and capable of producing maximum sustainable yield.

According to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the value of the provisional total tuna catch in 2018 was AU$8.9 billion (US$6 billion, €5.4 billion) – marginally higher than it was in 2017, and the highest seen since 2013. 

In its key priorities paper submitted to WCPFC ahead of the meeting, FFA proposed a continuation of the existing measure, given the constraints of negotiating via the online platform.

“FFA members therefore propose the commission facilitates a rollover of the measure to ensure this critical CMM does not lapse and the current objectives for yellowfin and bigeye tuna are maintained until such time as target reference point can be agreed following the appropriate level of discussion. We note this approach to deferring substantive negotiations is consistent with that taken by other RFMOs this year, and will be familiar to WCPFC [members] who are also members of those organisations,” Forum Fisheries Committee Chair Eugene Pangelinan said in the paper.

FFA acknowledged that COVID-19 has created obstacles to progressing on key commission issues during 2020, “in particular, the difficulties many members face with online connectivity and participation in discussions, which may have significant outcomes for their national interests”.

Glen Holmes, who serves as an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts international fisheries program, said the dominant topic of discussion in the upcoming meeting would be the tropical tuna measure.

“Even though there is a general desire to do as little negotiation [as] possible this year, they have to deal with the tuna measure,” Mr Holmes said.

Holmes said the most appropriate thing for WCPFC members to do was roll over the measure for another 12 months, and maintain the current guidelines until more substantive discussions could be had among the delegates.

In Pew’s position paper submitted to WCPFC, the NGO called for management of the three tuna stocks, in an effort to ensure uninterrupted continuation. It added that the management of these tuna should be supported by the goal of implementing fully specified harvest strategies, including maintaining bigeye and yellowfin populations at or above 2012–2015 levels until target reference points are adopted, and without increasing the risk of breaching the limit reference point.

Mr Holmes said it was a huge missed opportunity for the commission not to have discussed issues of harvest management strategies in last year’s meeting. It was crucial that the commission create a Science–Management Dialogue Working Group, he added, to accelerate development of harvest strategies. 

Mr Holmes said one thing positive about the COVID-19 travel restrictions is that there are opportunities to form the working group.

Pew is also urging WCPFC to improve oversight of fishing activities. The NGO said that, with the temporary removal of fishery observers from vessels due to the pandemic, the commission should work to finalise recommendations for electronic monitoring on vessels as a cost-effective way to improve data collection and augment human observer coverage.

Mr Teo said the WCPFC17 would also cover the limits and allocation for the high-seas purse-seine fishery and bigeye longline fishery.

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