FFA push for Tropical Tuna measure to be maintained: WCPFC negotiations reach a critical stage

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HONOLULU, 13 DECEMBER 2018 (PACNEWS)—– Members of the 17-nation Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) will push for the Tropical Tuna measure adopted at last year’s meeting to be maintained and will not take the fight lying down if any moves are made to weaken the measures.

That’s the blunt message from FFA Director General, Dr Manu Tupou Roosen, saying the region solidarity on the issue remains.

The Tropical Tuna Measure, which regulates a catch worth US$4.5 billion, is a three-year agreement.

It is designed to ensure skipjack, bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks are maintained at recent average levels and capable of producing maximum sustainable yield.

It has come under challenge from a United States proposal to allow its Hawaii-based longline fleet to increase its catch limits in recognition of their better than average monitoring of their fleet’s activities.

The FFA and Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) have a joint position for the Tropical Tuna Measure that they will not allow for an increase in the catch.

In the opening session of the WCPFC Pacific ministers and Delegation Heads demonstrated that solidarity with one after another calling for support for FFA positions going into WCPFC and for no weakening of the tropical tuna measure.

Cook Islands Head of Delegation, Tepaeru Herrmann, speaking as Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee on behalf of all FFA nations, reminded members that at the very first meeting of the Commission in the same conference centre in Honolulu they had agreed to some important principles.

“At that first meeting, we reached a common understanding on the need for sustainable development of the tuna resources of ou rregion, the importance of fishing responsibly, the importance of effective enforcement, and the need for effective cooperation between us. 

“Those were our founding motivations as a collective and from which we must draw inspiration from this week in our deliberations,” she said.

On the tropical tuna measure Herrmann said: ”This is currently a well-balanced measure which we all worked very hard to develop and adopt.  Therefore, our position is to maintain the strength of this measure and not weaken the delicate balance in its existing provisions.” 

Over the past two years more sophisticated ways of assessing fish stocks has led to an easing of concerns that bigeye tuna, in particular, had reached critically low levels.

Despite the improved assessment advice from WCPFC’s Scientific Committee remains that as a precautionary approach fishing mortality on bigeye should not be increased from the recent average (2011-2014).

It is advice the FFA is determined the Commission will heed.

“That is why we say there is a delicate balance in the tropical tuna measure,” Dr Tupou-Roosen explained.

Tuvalu is one of the Pacific nations for which fisheries income makes up more than half of its annual gross domestic product.

Natural Resources Minister Puakena Boreham told the opening of WCPFC that Tuvalu believes science-based management is essential and it is looking to Commission to respect the science and ensure that there be no bigger catch of bigeye tuna.


New push to protect sharks at Tuna Commission

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Another push is being made at Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meetings this week for an agreement on a comprehensive shark management measure.

The incidental catch of sharks while targeting other fish such as tuna has become a serious threat to the species.

A 2013 study by Social Development Direct, a UK based research group estimated that around 100 million sharks died in 2000 as a result of fishing, and 97 million in 2010.

Outgoing Commission chairperson, Rhea Moss-Christian, told reporters Saturday that the shark management measure would be a priority this year.

At last year’s Tuna Commission meeting, WCPFC  vowed to take up the issue of sharks at this year’s commission, however delays caused by fishing nations may have slowed things down.

A shark management measure would require all members, cooperating non-Members and participating territories to prohibit the removal of shark fins at sea.

It would also ban transshipment, retention on board and landing of shark fins.

Deep-sea longline fishing vessels and deep-sea and coastal trawlers had the largest total annual shark and ray by-catch according to Social Development Direct in 2015.

Longline boats deploy miles of baited hooks that accidentally snare sharks, among other unintended targets.

Blue sharks dominated the by-catch in longline fisheries. For other types of fishing gear,the species of by-catch varied across oceanic regions.

Many of the fisheries with the largest by-catch of cartilaginous species like sharks and rays operate over vast areas of ocean and often in international waters, where fishing rules are weaker.   

The measure before WCPFC15 would encourage research to identify ways to make fishing gear more selective and provide relevant information to WCPFC’s Scientific Committee.

The WCPFC has the mandate to conserve and manage nearly 60 per cent of the global tuna catch, equivalent to 2.9 million tons of tuna, valued at over $5 billion.It is also responsible for managing and conserving other migratory fish such as sharks and manta rays.

The environmental group, PEW Charitable Trust, said all species caught as by-catch fell  under the mandate of WCPFC.

Dave Gershman, PEW Global Tuna Conservation Officer said there should be a firm commitment, to conduct assessments on shark stocks in the WCPFC Convention Area.

“ PEW is keen to see action for sharks before their numbers crash. Negotiations for new rules on sharks have to take into account the widely differing interests of fishing nations and more conservation-minded resource-owning nations,” Gershman said.

Sharks are important to the ecosystem and as the top predators they keep the balance in the oceans. For small Pacific island nations, sharks can generate more money alive than dead.   Shark-based tourism in most of these nations is a lucrative business.

Tuna industry body supports Tongan fishing industry

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The Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association (PITIA) stood up for the struggling Tongan fishing industry today when it urged the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC15) to make a decision on Target Reference Point and a Harvest Control Rule for Southern Albacore tuna.

The most recent assessment of fish numbers in the southern albacore found albacore is not over fished or experiencing over fishing.

But Executive Officer of PITIA, John Maefiti told commission members, including the powerful fishing nations, that nobody can deny the perilous state of this fishery. 

Maefiti said catch rates simply cannot support current costs, leaving many companies on the brink of financial failure.

Maefiti expressed a deep concern for their member countries over the continuous failure of the Tuna Commission in its mandate to respond effectively to dire conditions in the South Pacific Albacore fishery.

PITIA strongly encouraged WCPFC 15 to come to agreement on the harvest strategy elements that WCPFC committed to in its Harvest Strategy Workplan in 2014.

He said it is fortunate that the Southern Pacific Albacore is biologically healthy, but the key to economic viability of a fishery is the catch per unit of effort. PITIA has observed a continually declining catch per unit effort over several years, diminishing what was once a robust and attractive fishery to a shadow of itself.

PITIA told delegates that the inability of the WCPFC to control a massive increase in High Seas fishing effort is a sad indictment about the Commission’s ability to manage the fisheries under its charge. According to Maefiti, WCPFC must take heed of the Management advice and implications contained in recommendations from the Commission’s recent Scientific Committee meeting.

The PITIA told the Commission Southern Pacific albacore is a critical fishery for the Pacific nations, their fishing industry,their communities, their people and their livelihoods and well-being.

The call by PITIA for WCPFC to make a decision in its Honolulu meeting to ensure the long-term commercial viability and sustainability of the southern longline fishery was also emphasised by Tonga’s Fisheries Minister.

Honourable Semisi Fakahau in his statement delivered yesterday made a call for WCPFC to agree at this meeting for a stronger and more effective fisheries management arrangements for migratory tuna stocks and other species as Tonga wants to see an adoption of the Target Reference Point for South Pacific Albacore in Honolulu……..ENDS

Small Pacific nations speak out at Tuna Commission

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HONOLULU, 12 DECEMBER 2018 (PACNEWS)— The tiny Pacific nation of Niue has called on members of the Tuna Commission (WCPFC) to ensure fisheries resources caught in the region are sustainable. 

Fisheries Minister Dalton Tagelagi, said members had a responsibility and duty to cooperate to ensure the tuna fisheries were managed sustainably.

“We owe it to the future generations that the legacy we leave behind for them should be one that that will be proud of,” Tagelagi said.

“I would like to reaffirm Niue’s commitment to effectively participate and contribute to the work of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission. We believe that we can all share and successfully manage this vital fishery if we honestly negotiate in good faith and transparently our High Seas fisheries among us.

“We have already implemented conservative limits on our own fisheries and now look forward to cooperating with our regional partners to strengthen all management of the high seas and provide for future generations.”

Tagelagi told delegates that while Niue might be the smallest member of the WCPFC, they were well aware of their responsibilities to ensure that the Fisheries resources in the Western Central Pacific Fisheries region remained sustainable.

He said the agenda set for this week was comprehensive and members would have their own expectations and desired outcomes.

 “For Niue we look forward to decisions on at least three key issues. One is Target Reference Points for the South Pacific Albacore. The second is effective participation of Small Island developing States at this meeting and the third is a way forward concerning the process to establish high seas allocations for purse seine by the WCPFC16 in 2019 and the long line fishery in 2020,” Tegelagi  said.

Meanwhile, Northern Marianas Governor Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres called on the WCPFC for financial assistance to develop their fisheries

“We have fisheries resources in our waters but lack access to capital needed to institute large scale fisheries operations. In this regard CNMI Is interested in how the commission can insist some members and territories to obtain increased benefits and capacity derived from tuna fisheries in the region,” said Torres.

Early this year the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands hosted the 23rd Micronesian Islands Forum where  heads of states adopted two resolutions related to fisheries.

“The MIF leaders committed to combating illegal unregulated and unreported fishing in Micronesia and recognise the need for funding and capacity-building assistance from national and intergovernmental partners and non- governmental organizations. We also committed to monitoring fisheries resources in the context of shifting distribution of tuna stocks and other climate change impact on food security,” Torres said.

 “I look forward to working cooperatively with commission Members, Cooperating non-members, participating territories and other delegates during this week’s session and onward for sustainable fisheries development programme,” said Torres……PACNEWS

France calls for strong collaboration to combat IUU

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HONOLULU, 12 DECEMBER 2018 (PACNEWS)—-France has called on Pacific and Atlantic tuna organisations to join forces in the fight against Illegal Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.  

Matthieu Le Quenven from French Maritime Affairs said France strongly supported the harmonisation of management and controls between the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) that manages the world’s largest tuna fishery to work with the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC ).

“In particular we intend to maintain a high standard of control at sea and dock-side monitoring,” LeQuenven said.

“We also call for harmonisation of the High Seas boarding inspection between WCPFC and IATTC to make something more effective and fair to fight against IUU fishing operation in an area under permanent fishing pressure,” he said.

However, Le Quenven said France was concerned about the management of the Eastern High Seas Pocket, the ambiguities about its geographical configuration and the lack of joint data available to neighbouring territories.

 “I think the time has come to act for better monitoring of fishing activity in this zone,” Le Quenven said

“A direct transmission of VMS (Vessel Monitoring System) to the Cook Islands, Kiribati and French Polynesia and to the WCPFC will seem to be an excellent way to allow good level of monitoring in this area to which we pay great attention and is charged with ensuring that the species under its jurisdiction, including commercially valuable tropical tunas, are sustainably managed.”

He told the 15th Regular Session of the WCPFC that France had drafted a letter regarding the overlap area to the WCPFC and the IATTC to indicate that it would  favour WCPFC regulations during the next three years.

“This choice will be motivated by a strong concern for clarification of the strong conservation and management regime applicable to French Polynesia’s vessels in the waters of the Shared Management Zone,” Le Quenven said.

“This legal clarification is not intended to call into question France’s participation in the IATTC nor with respect to our commitments to this regional fisheries management organisation.”

 He said Fish Aggregating Device management was also a matter of concern.

“Even if new technical measures limit the impact, FADs are not subject of a significant reduction proposal this year despite the fact that data at our disposal seems to show that the break-even point will be around 120 buoys for the biggest fishing vessel,” LeQuenven said.

He also raised concerns on Blue Boats entering French territory and fishing illegally in the New Caledonia waters.

” The continuity of new boatsl ast year in New Caledonia we regret to see again too many incursions in our EEZ in violation of our laws – no VMS, no declaration of entrance or exit in our ports, fishing gear or any suspicious objects alongside fishing vessels without authorization,” Le Quenven said

Blue boats are typically highly economical wooden vessels operating out of Vietnam and Indonesia involved in poaching activities targeting beche de mer, clams, abalone and some coastal fish.

Most of these situations could be easily resolved by a single VHF contact in accordance with IMO Resolution A703″, he said…. PACNEWS

New research reveals the secret life of FADS

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Honolulu, HawaiiTonnes of plastic waste smashing into reefs, entanglement of vulnerable wildlife, and long journeys across the Pacific are only part of the life of the tens of thousands of Fishing Aggregate Devices (FADs) placed in the ocean every year by the tuna industry.

Now the mysteries of FADs are starting to reveal themselves in a FAD tracking project being conducted by the Parties of Nauru Agreement (PNA).

“We took an interest in FADs back in 2009 and 2010 because we realised it wasn’t just an important part of the fishery, but was one of the main causes of some of our conservation problems,” Maurice Brownjohn, PNA commercial manager, told reporters this week on the sidelines of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission taking place in Honolulu.

Today’s fishing no longer relies on Mother Nature alone as FADs have made it easier from fishermen to find fish.

Technological advances in FADs are making tuna-catching more efficient, especially for commercial fishing. There is a threat that without more regulation they could end up depleting the stocks.

FADs have evolved. Devices now have sonar and satellite buoys attached with allows the fishing industry to know what’s swimming underneath the boats even if they are miles away from the vessels.

The PNA first started tracking FADs in January of 2016 by requiring FAD buoys to be registered and to report their location to PNA’s Fisheries Information Management System (FIMS).

The PNA has many questions. “If there are a lot of FADs in the water, does it impact the schooling behaviour of the fish? Does free school fishing suffer if fishing boats are deploying many more FADs? The information coming from other oceans, where there is a very high proportion of FADs suggests that more do impact free school fishing.

“And then this has an impact on your stock assessment and your fisheries modelling and everything else”, Brownjohn said.

The directive from PNA ministers to start the tracking program led to FAD workshops in Brisbane in June and in Honiara in late October to upgrade the FAD programs to a policy document to be endorsed by PNA leaders. The FAD tracking program has started to reveal the life of FADs, many of which can float cast distances after they are no longer being used for fishing.

As marine debris, FADs have been found to smash into reefs, repeatedly freeing themselves only to again be driven back onto the coral damaging a different section of reef.

Damage to vulnerable species such as sea turtles and sharks can happen when they accidentally get entangled in the netting or ropes that lie below a FAD.

Environmental group PEW recommends that the Commission mandate that fishing vessels adopt FAD designs that reduce the entanglement and deaths of sharks and turtles.

Meanwhile, the PNA is advancing FAD management to improve reporting of the current FAD tracking trial, integrate FAD log sheets with electronic reporting by fisheries observers, develop a PNA FAD buoy tracking and registration measure, and address ecological issues associated with FADs, including FAD retrieval and liability for beaching of FADs.

Brownjohn said with the new technology, commercial operations arena basically “fishing from the office now.” According to PNA, although not all are used, there are an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 FADs deployed in PNA waters annually.

The work of the PNA FAD tracking program has highlighted the increasing technological sophistication of FADs in the purse seine fishery, which allows fleets to “cherry pick” FADs to set on. This happened through a centralised monitoring system which directs purse seine vessels to particular FADs, eliminating the need for vessels to visit individual FADs in search of schools of tuna.

“This allows fishing vessels to focus fishing on FADs with the largest schools, which has implications for tuna stocks and management of the fishery,” PNA said.

In this week’s WCPFC meeting in Honolulu, FAD closure was again under scrutiny, with concern about the substantial impact of FADs on bigeye tuna populations, which has in the past been on the borderline of overfishing.

“Largely because of PNA’s annual FAD moratorium, a much lower share of the catch in this region is taken by fishing on FADs,” said Ludwig Kumoru, CEO of PNA. “It is likely that this contributes to the more positive status overall of the major Western and Central Pacific Ocean tropical tuna stocks.”

The FAD tracking program is in its infancy and has only just begun to reveal a potential treasure trove of information. Fisheries managers and conservation representatives alike, hope that information from the program will make it easier to protect tuna as well as the ecosystems that make up their ocean home.

Tonga pushes hard on its priorities at Tuna Commission meeting

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Honolulu… It is Tonga’s sincerest wish that the Pacific tuna fishery remains sustainable The Hon. Minister of Fisheries Semisi Fakahau told the opening session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in Honolulu yesterday.

Tonga’s priorities include important commercial species of tuna including albacore, bigeye yellowfin and skipjack.

Fakahau told the Commission the recent drop in catch rates in the albacore fishery in Tonga’s national waters has hampered the local fishing industry, affecting exports and the amount of fish available for local consumption.

The Minister emphasised that in order to maintain the long-term sustainability and economic viability of the tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, and to secure livelihoods for local fisherman, it is important that stronger and more effective fisheries management arrangements for migratory tuna and other species are agreed at the Honolulu meeting.

He highlighted priorities and issues that are important in the overall sustainable management of national and regional tuna fisheries. They include establishing of Target Reference Point for South Pacific Albacore, Management of the High Seas Fisheries and strengthening the Compliance Monitoring Scheme.

“South Pacific albacore is the most important target species for many island countries in the region, including Tonga. While the overall stock status is healthy, catch rates of the portion of the stock harvested by longline fishing is being reduced due to excessive fishing effort. This is severely undermining the viability of Pacific Island countries’ domestic tuna longline fishing fleets,” he said.

A target reference point refers to the ideal size of the stock fisheries managers would like to achieve. Once a target reference point has been decided more rules can be added to the management regime to ensure stocks do not fall too far below that level.

Last year the Central and Western Pacific Fisheries Commission failed to set a target reference point for albacore, despite its being under discussion since 2012.

After last year’s failed talks the Commission promised it would set a TRP for albacore this year.

Fakahau said Tonga would like to work collaboratively with all members of the Commission, including fishing partners, to adopt a Target Reference Point for South Pacific Albacore during this week’s meeting, and to advance the progress on management of this fishery for the benefit of all members as he further elaborates more on other priorities for Tonga.

“The commitment at WCPFC 14 to establish hard limits for catch and effort on the high seas, and framework for allocation of those limits between WCPFC CCMs in CMM 2017-01, is a step forward in improving management of fishing on the high seas,” said the Minister. “This has been a priority of FFA members for a number of years. We continue to support current and future work to implement this commitment”.

Fakahau thanked everyone at the WCPFC 15 who has either led or participated in the hard work and effort put in to progressing the development of a new Compliance Monitoring Scheme measure for the Commission’s consideration.

“Tonga continues to support the view of FFA member countries, on the need to ensure that the scheme is effective, efficient, and with fair implementation procedures. A new scheme must produce fair outcomes for CCMs as well as promote and improve compliance. It is also vital that the processes and tools supporting the Scheme recognise the special requirement of SIDS. This includes by streaming processes, strengthening capacity and requiring a widely consulted and well informed 2013-06 SIDS impact assessment before a measure is adopted and used in the CMS”.

On the Tropical Tuna Measure Fakahau said Tonga supports FFA members’ position to retain bigeye longline catch limits, to retain current purse seine effort limits on high seas and to retain additional high seas FAD closure.

Fakahau concluded his statement with a commitment to continue to work together with all parties to address these issues during this Commission’s meeting.

Micronesia and Marshall Islands lead the way in fisheries sustainability

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Two tiny Pacific nations have laid down the gauntlet to fishing nations and regional fisheries owners and now lead the way to ensuring long-term sustainability of tuna stocks in the Western and Central Pacific ocean with the issuance of bold challenges.

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) President,Peter Christian, urged nations at last month’s ‘Our Oceans’ conference in Bali to adopt electronic monitoring technology to achieve full transparency of tuna fisheries by 2023.

And, Hilda Heine, President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, called on Pacific nations to commit to a 2023 target for the abolition of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. 

Opening the 15thWestern and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission here today, chair Rhea Moss-Christian praised the efforts of what she described as two of the smallest countries in issuing fisheries challenges that other nations should follow.

“It is no coincidence that two of the boldest challenges for our region’s fisheries come from two of the most vulnerable island nations whose economies and futures are acutely tied to the health of these resources,” Moss-Christian said at the opening of the five-day negotiation to determine the fate of critical tuna species – bigeye, yellowfin, and skipjack.

Fisheries are the key economic driver for RMI and FSM but climate change and over fishing can impact the well-being of the coastal communities who depend on fish for their way of life.

Moss-Christian said WCPFC has “the lead responsibility in meeting these challenges issued by two of its members at the highest level and I believe that we are already on this path.”

The Marshall Islands has been quick to support measures to end IUU fishing because of the impact of this activity on tuna stocks.

“IUU has devastating consequences. It is organised crime that affects socio-economic growth and future generations, and the Pacific has shown itself to be vulnerable,” President Heine said at the October Technical and Compliance Committee (TCC) of WCPFC.

Christian made his country’s position clear at the Our Ocean Conference in Bali, Indonesia, when he announced a commitment to enforce 100 per cent at-sea monitoring coverage of all industrial fishing in their waters by 2023.

According to Eugene Pangelinan, Executive Director of the FSM National Oceanic Resource Management Authority (NORMA) the challenge would  be achieved through a combination of observer coverage and electronic monitoring.

“The FSM will use this invaluable tool so our fisheries managers and fishing industry partners can obtain much-needed, detailed data on fishing effort, target catch composition, and by-catch of non-target species that come in on these vessels,” Pangelinan said in a statement today.

The WCPFC is the central decision making body for management of tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

Outgoing Tuna Commission Chair calls for consideration of future generations

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 Honolulu, Hawaii- The outgoing chair of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) spoke from the heart as she called on nations responsible for managing half the world’s fisheries to consider future generations.

Widely-respected Chair Rhea Moss-Christian, who is completing her 4-year term, told delegates from the Pacific and distant water fishing nations that it is their responsibility to ensure the sustainability of tuna stocks as they meet this week in Honolulu.

In her keynote address opening of the Commission session, Moss-Christian told members their deliberations could impact the livelihood and the future of nations.

 “Compromise and sacrifice do not come easily, this is the nature of multilateral process.  In this Commission, collaboration impacts livelihoods and our future generations and the impacts are real,” she said

“What we discuss here has broad and potentially significant effects out there,” Christian-Morris said.

“But our mission is noble and …we are all stakeholders.”

In an earlier interview, Moss-Christian said 2018 was a busy year for the Commission.

“We are expecting heavy discussions on the tropical tuna this year,’ she told reporters on Saturday.

The Tropical Tuna Measure sets fishing rules and influences for tuna worth more than US$4.4 billion annually.

Parts of the current measure, which covers skipjack, bigeye and yellowfin tuna, are due to expire at the end of the year.

In an earlier statement the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) said they want to see the WCPFC act on the expiring provisions in the tropical tuna measure but not increase the catch. This means increasing the dollar value of the tuna instead of allowing increased catch by fleets.

 Ms Moss-Christian said Commission members were expected to continue discussions on harvest strategies, which would provide comprehensive plans for keeping tuna stocks in a healthy state.

The main proposal from the WCPFC secretariat is that the Commission establish a new Science-Management Dialogue that would allow delegates to the annual Commission meeting to discuss harvest strategies and arrive better briefed on the science behind fisheries.

Work has also been progressing in other areas. Moss-Christian said that prior to this year’s annual negotiations work had been done through working groups on the Compliance Monitoring Scheme,electronic monitoring and reporting, Pacific albacore stocks, shark and ray protection and management of FADs.

“These are important issues that will be addressed next week,” she said.

The WCPFC will also prioritise discussion on the South Pacific albacore target reference point, which will start the process of putting the albacore fishery on an economically sustainable footing.

Moss-Christian said she was more confident about the nations reaching consensus on several measures this week.

She made history by serving a four-year term as chairperson of WCPFC and she said she feels good about her last term at the helm of the tuna body.

“I feel very good about my last term this year, its time for me to step aside and let someone else step in,” she told reporters.

United States seeks increase in its tuna catch limit

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Honolulu, Hawaii- The United States is seeking a higher catch limit for bigeye tuna by its Hawaii-based longline fishing fleet at the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) taking place in Honolulu this week.

The move comes as Pacific Island nations through their two main inter-governmental fishing agencies have made it clear they are not willing to increase the total bigeye catch in Pacific waters.

In its proposal to the 27-member rule-setting body, the United States highlights the significant levels of monitoring and control it maintains in the fishery, outperforming other members of the Commission.

,Washington points out that while the large longline fleets maintained by Japan, Korea and Taiwan have failed to meet the Commission’s minimum requirement of placing independent fisheries observers on 5 per cent of their vessels the Hawaii-based US fleet has consistently outperformed minimum requirements.

Figures included in the proposal show the US fleet has achieved observer coverage of about 20 per cent in its deep-set fishery and 100% in its shallow-set fishery.

With ‘essentially no at-sea trans-shipments’ taking place in the fishery the US argues it has been contributing highly certain catch data and other fisheries information, and making an important contribution.

The US proposes that as an incentive for Commission members to provide better quality catch data would be to increase catch limits by 1 per cent on 2018 levels for every 1 per cent of observer coverage achieved over the 5 per cent minimum. They also propose that catch limits should be increased by 10 per cent on 2018 levels for every member that achieves 100 per cent trans-shipment free fishing.

The US proposal admits that under current conditions the its fleets would be the only ones eligible to receive an increase in their catch limits.

It comes as the Science Committee of the WCPFC confirms advice that bigeye tuna is not overfished or experiencing overfishing. 

However, Pacific nations do not want to see an increase in the catch of bigeye.

The CEO of the 8-nation Parties to the Nauru Agreement group Ludwig Kumoru said although the US fishing industry is laudable for its efforts to put in measures to improve monitoring and control of their fishing vessels, the number of observers should not “directly relate to how much fish should I take from the ocean.”

 He said that the amount of observer coverage or number of observers one places on the vessels does not relate to the amount of fish one catches.

“Therefore good reporting should not be used as a condition to increase catch. We should instead concentrate on bringing in conservation measures that actually support sustainable fishing,” he said.

Although he doesn’t agree with the proposal, Kumoru said it will be up to the Commission members to decide on the matter.

“I think we should concentrate on bringing in conservation measures that actually support sustainable fishing.” Kumoru said.

The director General of the 17-nation Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said that although the science says that bigeye tuna looks to be in healthier state than previously thought, they have advised the Commission to maintain current fishing limits and take a precautionary approach.

Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen stressed that the FFA wants to see a strong tropical tuna measure from this week’s Commission meeting which include a healthy bigeye tuna population.

 “I mentioned earlier priorities of FFA members going into this meeting and that is to maintain the strength of the tropical tuna measure and not to weaken the existing provisions,” Dr. Roosen said.

She also commended United States continued cooperation with the Commission’s rules.

“So we are confident that we will reach a successful resolution of the ongoing issue with the US,” she said.

The environmental groups PEW and WWF see the US proposal as an “interesting idea” especially in the context of it being an incentive to fishing nations to improve monitoring control and observer coverage, but believe the Commission should still prioritise the population of the bigeye.

“ We are fully in support of improving observers coverage, we also think that trans-shipment should be banned unless best practices are in place to ensure its verifiable and legal. And we see this incentive system as an interesting idea.  However, the Commission needs to be careful that the overall catch of big-eye does not increase past the scientific advice,” said Dave Gershman, Pew Charitable Trust Global Tuna Conservation Officer.

“If you increase the catch of big-eye through one proposal, you need to kind of reign it in in a different way. If they can structure it in a way where it doesn’t lead to an increase in big-eye catch then that would be the way to go.”

Bubba Cook, WWF Western Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager said: “The US proposal sends a strong statement that if we have greater observer coverage and we’re able to get better refined data on these stocks, we may actually be able to catch more than what we’re catching right now.”

WCPFC chairperson Rhea Moss-Christian said that the US approach is a “relatively new one,” and she cannot determine yet how the Commission members will respond to the proposal.