Pacific solidarity needed to get climate change embedded in Tropical Tuna Measure

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Honiara – As discussions on a new Tropical Tuna Measure (TTM) loom, Pacific island countries need to push more to get the international community to consider the impacts of climate change on the regional tuna fishery. It needs to take account of both high seas and in-zone allocations so that the measure can be more beneficial to the region.

Climate change has been come to be seen as one of the building blocks of the TTM, based on advice from the Scientific Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) that it is likely to result in increasing fish migration between zones to the east and the high seas. 

Therefore, it is up to the members of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) member countries to lead the development of new measure – and it is apparent that there will be a lot of push and pull factors coming from some developed countries.

The TTM, conservation and management measure 2018-01, is one of the most important rules governing tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

In a media conference to wrap up the 17th Tuna Commission meeting last December, the Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC), Mr Eugene Pangelinan, said, “As we move towards developing a new Tropical Tuna Measure or successor, our experiences in the past will dictate our behaviour in the future.

“The outcomes of what will be a Tropical Tuna Measure for 2022 onwards will be based on a lot of factors. I’m concerned that issues like climate change just might fall down through the cracks as we negotiate that Tropical Tuna Measure.”

A challenge for Pacific small island developing states

According to Mr Pangelinan, the discussions on pushing for the effects of climate change on the tuna fisheries to be part of the TTM was going to be a challenge for the small island developing states (SIDS) of the Pacific.

This is due to the fact that the developed countries will also push for their own priorities to be considered. 

“The way we see it, as we prepare for this process in 2021, I think some developed CCMs are starting to take a very strong position on their priorities, such as profits and profits for their vessels and ensuring that their vessels have a place in this fishery to retain what has been very beneficial to them,” Mr Pangelinan said. (CCMs are the members, cooperating non-members and participating territories that make up the WCPFC.)

The FFC chair said FFA had a “totally different” view, and anticipated that these kinds of issues might become watered down as people would be more focused on what members were trying to achieve through the objectives that would be agreed on in early 2021.

“So, it will be quite a challenge to bring in elements of climate change, crew and labour standards, and so forth,” Mr Pangelinan said. 

Besides these areas of most concern, he said that considering the impacts of COVID-19 in the discussions, “as we start carving out or drafting new measures, it’s going to be very difficult. I will say, we’re going to just be really ready and prepared as we have these discussions, and keep those in the back of our minds that they’re equally important to our people.”

“It is also important to also have leadership directives, from our highest levels of government that these are priorities as well,” Mr Pangelinan said.

Climate negotiations as everybody’s business

The FFA Director-General, Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen, told regional journalists after WCPFC17 that the fight for getting what’s beneficial to the Pacific island countries out of the new Tropical Tuna Measure was “everybody’s business” and could not be done by the FFA alone.

Dr Tupou-Roosen said it was a positive that Pacific leaders and ministers had highlighted the importance of climate change as the single greatest threat to their people. 

“Whilst we’re faced with the immediate challenge and impacts of COVID-19 staying very much in front, on top of mind is what we do in the climate change space,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.

“And so we will see that start to play out as well, in the discussions around the Tropical Tuna Measure, in terms of the high seas allocation, given the scientists telling us that there will be substantial amount of fish within our waters that will migrate to the high seas, due to climate change.

“This will be part of the conversation next year [2021] in that context.” 

Four maps showing movement of two species of tuna, skipjack and yellowfin, from western Pacific Ocean eastwards as a result of changes in the ocean with climate change. Source Pacific Community policy brief 2019
Projected distributions of skipjack and yellowfin tuna biomass in the Pacific Ocean in 2005, and in 2050 under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario. Source: SPC.

She said climate change was also linked to concerns about maritime boundaries. Discussion about this issue needed the support of all members and the regional community.

“Overall, climate change is a piece of work that cannot be done alone by the FFA and not just the secretariat and the members,” she said. 

“But this is a work that needs to be done with our partners within the regional architecture we have the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme as a lead in environmental issues, and as the lead in our preparation before the COP meeting at the end of 2021, and how we ensure that there are entry points into that conversation on our fisheries matters.

“Because we all recognise that we are not the cause of these issues related to climate change and global warming: it is the large gas emitters. The conversation is not happening in our in our fishery space.”.

Dr Tupou-Roosen said that the island states cooperating as a region in debates was important “to ensure that we can influence the debate, ensure that it has flow-on positive benefits and fight for our fisheries work.”

Mechanisms such as compensation could be used to the region’s advantage in the fishing space. However, Dr Tupou-Roosen hoped that the talks would be very successful once the upcoming COP meeting was held face to face.

WCPO tuna fisheries soon to be managed by the whole ecosystem

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If the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and its members have it their way, they will soon be managing tuna and other migratory fish in their region by taking into account the needs of the whole ecosystem, and not just the fish.

Their ecosystem approach would encompass the effects of climate change. 

FFA and other regional fisheries organisations of the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) have already begun to take an ecosystem-wide approach to managing stocks of tuna and other commercially valuable migratory fish. Coastal fisheries, too, are increasingly being managed in a holistic way that encompasses whole ecosystems.

FFA and its partners are seeking funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to make the approach mainstream so that it becomes integral to national and regional fisheries policies, operations and scientific research.

The Deputy Director-General of FFA, Mr Matt Hooper, said that taking a whole-ecosystem approach to the threat of climate change would help the states of the WCPO to ensure secure supplies of local food and economic wellbeing.

He said an “enormous amount of work” had gone into developing the project.

“It was heartening to see the member countries contributing along with our partners and industry,” Mr Hooper said.

The project would build on the two blocks of work funded by the Pacific Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (OFMP2). This funding will end in June. OFMP2 supports the 14 small island developing states (SIDS) of the WCPO to implement and enforce global, regional and subregional rules and policies that conserve populations of tuna and other commercially important fish. 

The basis of the new project would be two outputs from OFMP2, a Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) and a Strategic Action Programme that builds on the TDA.

The main objectives of the project are to:

  • strengthen ways of managing the marine ecosystem and the life it supports
  • strengthen scientific monitoring, which will allow fisheries managers to make better-informed decisions on how to protect the ecosystem while sustainably harvesting some of its resources
  • build the capacity of local people to manage the ecosystem within the area that is governed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

FFA is leading the development of the project, which will involve the 14 SIDS (all of which are members of FFA): Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of Marshal Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu. FFA is working closely with other organisations that will be involved, including the Pacific Community (SPC), the Parties to the Nauru Agreement Office (PNAO), the Pacific Island Tuna Industry AssociationWWF and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Malaitan community benefits from local government FAD program

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HONIARA ­– Malaitan communities have already benefited from the provincial government’s initiative to provide coastal communities with fish-aggregating devices (FADs).

The initiative was launched in May 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is considered to be a sustainable fishing technology that can support the coastal communities of Malaita with their fishing activities.

The program was initiated following the declaration by the national government of a nation-wide state of public emergency as COVID-19 sky-rocketed in March 2020. It was reported that the Malaita Alliance or Rural Advancement (MARA) Government supported the Malaita Provincial Fishery Office with SBD$100,000 as part of its COVID-19 livelihood program through the FAD launches.

Solomon Islands Ngongosila fisher Walter shows one of his big catches of the day. Photo: Victor Suraniu.
Ngongosila fisher Walter shows one of his big catches of the day. Photo: Victor Suraniu.

During the festive season, the sinking islands of Kwai and Ngongosila in east Malaita reaped their first harvest since the FAD was launched. The Provincial Member for Ward 16, Preston Billy, led the first harvest of fish stocks.

“Fisheries is an important source of income for the coastal communities of Malaita, and also the rest of the Solomon Islands. The pandemic has brought in a lot of challenges for our local fishing communities, thus driving the local government to aid its own people,” Mr Billy said.

 “It was a great experience to be giving back to the people of my community, being a fisherman myself before heading into provincial politics. This initiative is the best that the local government can do for its people, especially during this pandemic period.

“I was also part of the first harvest and it’s good to see that the local fishermen and their families are benefiting greatly from it,” Mr Billy said.

In Solomon Islands, Malaita Ward 16 Provincial Member Preston Billy. Photo: Ronald F. Toito’ona.
Ward 16 Provincial Member Preston Billy standing inside the run-down Adakoa Fisheries Centre. Photo: Ronald F. Toito’ona.

The Kwai Island community representative, Victor Suraniu, said they were filled with pride as beneficiaries of the local FAD program.

“Thumbs up to the MARA Government for donating and installing the FADs in the last six months. Indeed, we are very proud of what you have done for the hundreds of people who have directly and indirectly benefited from the fishing project, both from the islands and the shoreline communities from Wards 15 and 16 in East Malaita,” Mr Suraniu said.

“We also wish to show gratitude to our Provincial Member, Preston Billy for taking the lead to ensure that the FAD program reaches our shores.”

However, they are calling on Mr Billy to also try all means possible to upgrade and revive the run-down fisheries centre in the area.

Mr Billy said that plans were already in place to upgrade the old fisheries centre, which is located on the mainland.

In Solomon Islands, Malaita Provincial Ward Member Preston Billy (front) works with local fishers to prepare the local FAD for its first harvest on 14 December 2020. Photo: Victor Suraniu.
Malaita Provincial Ward Member Preston Billy (front) works with local fishers to prepare the local FAD for its first harvest on 14 December 2020. Photo: Victor Suraniu.

Malaita Provincial Fisheries Office has so far launched more than 20 FADs in the province.

Principal fisheries officer Martin Jasper said they had benefited the communities.

“This is a very successful program thus far, however more and more people are requesting for devices to be installed in their waters,” Mr Jasper said.

“For the year 2021, a total of eight FADs will be distributed: six FADs will be for mainland Malaita and two FADs for Malaita Outer Islands. This FAD distribution is a continuation from the 2020 MARA-funded program by Malaita provincial government for its people.”

Mr Jasper said the idea behind the provision of FADs was to shift people’s fishing activities from overharvesting reefs by moving to FAD-based fishing.

He said the provincial government came in to support its people because it realised the importance of this. It could also see that it was an income-generating activity for people.

He said that the FAD assistance program also had wide support from the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources.

Mr Jasper’s office is also engaged in other programs such as community-based rehabilitation management for fisheries. He said work was also in progress in other fisheries programs such as the Bina Harbour project.

In Solomon Islands, the remains of the old Adakoa Fisheries Centre, which is on the mainland, adjacent to the islands of Kwai and Ngongosila. Photo: Ronald F. Toito’ona.
The remains of the old Adakoa Fisheries Centre, which is on the mainland, adjacent to the islands of Kwai and Ngongosila. Photo: Ronald F. Toito’ona.

WCPFC17 members agree on way to negotiate new Tropical Tuna Measure in 2021

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A process for negotiating a new Tropical Tuna Measure has been agreed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), paving the way for adoption at the end of next year.

At this year’s annual WCPFC meeting, which finished yesterday, members agreed to roll over the current conservation and management measure, CMM 2018-01, to extend it for another year. 

This means the commission has avoided the problem that its counterpart in the eastern Pacific now has, after it failed to find consensus on the rollover of its equivalent measure and is left with no way of managing fishing for bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tuna.

CMM 2018-01 was due to expire in February.

The process the WCPFC17 has agreed to was proposed by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). It will be conducted online.

The Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee, Mr Eugene Pangelinan, said in a media conference today that work would need to start almost immediately, because negotiations were more difficult online.

“We have a lot of work to do so that by next December we have all the building blocks read for WCPFC to make a decision, not just on the Tropical Tuna Measure, but also on South Pacific albacore, crewing conditions, and observers,” Mr Pangelinan said.

The WCPFC will convene three workshops to develop the replacement measure. The first one will be in April. Development work will continue between workshops.

The conservation and management measure will work towards the adoption of harvest strategies, as laid out in another rule, CMM 2014-06. The harvest strategy would operate hand-in-hand with the Tropical Tuna Measure and conservation and management measures for other species. Harvest strategies are used to manage commercially important species so they remain biologically sustainable while maximising profits from the fisheries.

WCPFC expected that some, and perhaps all, of the workshops would be held virtually. 

Virtual meetings have proven to be unsatisfactory when negotiating details of important decisions. To minimise the problems with this format, the agreement of the process stated that was “essential” that those taking part in developing the next CMM participate cooperatively in sessions between workshops. 

Mr Pangelinan said, “There have been a lot of lessons learned this year. One of the bad things about using this platform is the lack of interpersonal engagement. This can influence outcomes,.”

The process for negotiating the Tropical Tuna Measure needed to include ways of maintaining appropriate discussion and negotiation.

All proposals would have to be put in writing and shared. They would also have to include an assessment of the impact on small island developing states (SIDS), in line with CMM 2013-06

This CMM is to ensure the SIDS can participate on an equal footing with wealthier members of WCPFC, and that they do not have to bear unreasonable costs or workload.

One of these is ensuring that SIDS members can participate fully.

The Director-General of FFA, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, said in the media conference today, “Our members are very clear about this. Capacity building to be able to work on this virtual platform is as important as being able to sit at the meetings.”

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

IATTC leaves tropical tuna unmanaged as meeting fails to reach consensus by one vote

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By Chris Chase, republished from SeafoodSource, 8 December 2020

The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) has failed to reach a consensus on the management of tropical tunas by one vote – with Colombia opposing the resolution – leaving tuna fisheries without any rules starting on 1 January.

The tropical tuna fishery – which includes bigeye, yellowfin, and skipjack tuna stocks – includes billions of dollars of catch. With the failure to reach a consensus – the first time in the IATTC’s history – the fishery is left without any form of management, including quotas, gear types, and more. While individual countries can choose to implement regulations matching the proposed IATTC resolution, region-wide rules will end.

Immediately after the failure of the IATTC to continue its current management into 2021, multiple non-governmental organisations – such as the Pew Charitable Trusts and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) – sharply criticised the lack of action.

“For the first time in its 70-year history, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission has completely withdrawn from management of tropical tunas,” the Pew Charitable Trusts Director of International Fisheries, Amanda Nickson, said in a release.

The lack of management stems from the IATTC failing to enact resolution 17-02 for tropical tuna species.

“Despite the clear scientific advice to, at a minimum, keep these provisions intact, the objection of one party blocked their extension,” the ISSF said. “As a result, the sustainability of the region’s tropical tuna fisheries and marine ecosystems is now at risk.”

Meetings of all regional fishery management organisations (RFMOs) have had to be moved online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite the challenges, the IATTC managed to enact other management changes – specifically, a new resolution establishing minimum standards for electronic monitoring.

“IATTC was able to make critical progress towards electronic monitoring, a much-needed step to help improve oversight of fishing vessel activity – demonstrating that, even during virtual meetings, governments can reach important agreements,” Pew said in a statement.

With a failure to act on any management issue, the future of any Marine Stewardship Council-certified species in the region is “is now uncertain”, Pew Charitable Trusts said. It also brings into question the efficacy of RFMOs.

“It’s clear that business as usual is not working and that regional fisheries management organisations such as IATTC need to urgently modernise their approach to management. When meeting participants can’t reach consensus, the default should never be to simply suspend management of species,” Nickson said.

“The issues with RFMOs go beyond IATTC and stem from management approaches that aren’t robust enough to handle unexpected challenges.

“The need to responsibly manage fish stocks worldwide calls out for significant reforms in the predictability and stability of decision-making, including a modernised system of pre-agreed decision frameworks known as harvest strategies; enhanced transparency of vessel activity through expanded observer coverage and transhipment reform; and greater accountability by adopting measures to improve compliance with existing rules and to end and prevent illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.”

Later this week, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) will be meeting to decide the fate on another set of tuna stocks, with many of the same countries participating in the meeting.

“The lack of protections for tropical tunas in the eastern Pacific makes it even more critical that WCPFC agrees to roll over its existing measure and keep these stocks on a sustainable path, which would include committing to harvest strategies and electronic monitoring,” Nickson said.

“If WCPFC also fails to reach consensus on a measure, tropical tunas in the entire Pacific Ocean basin would be left unmanaged, threatening the viability of these US$24 billion [€19.8 billion] fisheries and the already tenuous status of many vulnerable populations that are impacted by these fisheries.” 

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

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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

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

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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

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

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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

WCPO bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks remain healthy

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Republished from FFA Trade and Industry Newsvolume 13, issue 4, July–August 2020

WCPFC’s 16th Scientific Committee (SC16) was held virtually from 12–19 August 2020. During this meeting new WCPO bigeye and yellowfin stock assessments were presented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), indicating that both stocks remain healthy.

The previous full stock assessment for bigeye was conducted in 2017. It indicated a positive change in WCPO bigeye stock status to ‘healthy’ from ‘overfished’, with overfishing occurring. For the 2020 assessment, median values of relative recent spawning biomass (2015–2018) and fishing morality (2014–2017) indicate that the bigeye stock remains not overfished (with 100% probability) and likely continues to not be experiencing overfishing (with 87.5% probability).

However, levels of bigeye fishing mortality and depletion differ among the nine regions used in SPC’s stock-assessment models, with higher impacts in the four tropical regions, particularly on juvenile bigeye. Hence, overall bigeye stock status is buffered by lower catches in the temperate regions.

Similarly, the 2020 stock assessment indicates that the WCPO yellowfin stock is not overfished, nor subject to overfishing (both with 100% probability). Like bigeye, yellowfin exploitation is higher in tropical regions where fishing effort is concentrated by the equatorial purse-seine fishery and ‘other’ fisheries (e.g. pole-and-line and handline vessels operating in Indonesia); there is low yellowfin exploitation in temperate regions.

Hence, for both bigeye and yellowfin, SC16 recommended that WCPFC17 continue to consider management measures that reduce fishing mortality from fisheries that take juveniles (i.e. purse-seine fishery) to increase bigeye and yellowfin fishery yields and reduce any further impacts on spawning biomass in the tropical regions.

SC16 also recommended that a precautionary approach be maintained, with bigeye and yellowfin fishing mortality kept at a level that maintains spawning biomass at 2012–2015 levels until the Commission can agree on appropriate target reference points (i.e. the optimal level of spawning biomass or fishing mortality that ensures long-term sustainability of the stock).

The WCPO continues to be the only ocean where stocks of the four key tuna species – skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye and albacore – are deemed to be in a healthy state.

2020 tuna research at sea conducted, but cut back to follow COVID-19 rules

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Two important tuna research trips have gone ahead in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) this year, although the research programs and the routes had to be curtailed dramatically.

Both programs, which are run by the Pacific Community (SPC), were cut back to comply with regional practices put in place to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

For the Pacific Tuna Tagging Programme, scientists continued routine tagging of tuna and tested new sampling methods that will help scientists analyse the structure and behaviour of tuna populations. 

The research was conducted in the high seas and the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Kiribati groups of Line Islands and Phoenix Islands. 

This year’s cruise was originally to have focused on understanding more about the habit of tuna to gather around drifting fish-aggregating devices (FADs). It was to have been conducted in waters around Tuvalu, which have one of the highest densities of drifting FADs in the WCPO.

Three men on deck of research vessel Gutsy Lady 4 being prepared at Kewalo Basin, Honolulu, for the tuna tagging cruise in the central Pacific. Photo SPC.
Research vessel Gutsy Lady 4 being prepared at Kewalo Basin, Honolulu, for the tuna tagging cruise in the central Pacific. Photo: SPC.

SPC research scientists Bruno Leroy and Valérie Allain reported on this year’s tuna tagging cruise in issue 162 of SPC’s Fisheries Newsletter.

The tagging cruise left from Honolulu, Hawaii, in mid-August, and returned to the same port in early October, staying clear of any other ports. Mr Leroy and Dr Allain said that protocols to protect Pacific Islands people from COVID-19 meant that, before the research vessels could depart, the crew and scientists had to stay isolated for 14 days and return negative test results to the disease.

Mr Leroy said that, since the Pacific Tuna Tagging Programme began in 2006, about 455,000 tuna had been tagged. If SPC tagging campaigns carried out since the end of the 1970s were included, the number was more than 800,000. On the 2019 cruise, researchers tagged nearly 17,000 tuna.

Second study to develop better ways to sample small marine animals 

Bruno Leroy and Valérie Allain also reported on a second SPC research cruise, which was also curtailed to comply with COVID-19 rules. 

The SPC’s scientific team conducted a four-day trial to develop a new sampling method to collect micronekton from the surface of the ocean to a depth of 600 m. (Micronekton are marine animals such as fish, crustaceans, jellies and squids that measure 2–20 cm in length. They are the main source of food for seabirds, tuna and marine mammals.)

As the research vessel Alis is based in New Caledonia, the trial was conducted inside the country’s EEZ.

The original cruise planned for this year in the waters of New Caledonia, Solomon Islands and Federated States of Micronesia has been postponed until 2021. It is part of a long-term program to study the ecosystem of the open oceans in the Western and Central Pacific. 

Crew on the research vessel Alis haul in a net full of micronekton during the 2020 research cruise in New Caledonian waters. Photo: Valérie Allain, SPC.
Crew on the research vessel Alis haul in a net full of micronekton during the 2020 research cruise in New Caledonian waters. Photo: Valérie Allain, SPC.