Member countries and territories of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) have agreed to adopt measures to conserve stocks of tropical tuna even as conservation groups criticised the decision to increase the catch limit of bigeye tuna.According to consensus reached at the 14th regular session of the commission which concluded on 8 December in Manila, the “bridging measures”, such as regulating and monitoring the use of fish aggregating device (FAD) and long lines of baited hooks, will be in place for three years while WCPFC members prepare a comprehensive tuna harvest strategy covering catch limits and spawn stocks.“Conservation and management measures shall ensure, at a minimum, that stocks are maintained at levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield, pending agreement on target reference points as part of the harvest strategy approach,” said the draft agreement (7 December).
The 26-member WCPFC, the governing body for international agreement on migratory fish in the Pacific, are composed mostly of small island states in the Pacific but also include developed countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States.
The WCPFC said the use of FADs will be prohibited for three months in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and two months in the high seas. Exempted are Kiribati-flagged vessels operating in the high seas adjacent to Kiribati’s EEZ and Philippine vessels fishing in corresponding situations.
FADs are semi-permanent floating structure made from any materials used to lure fish such as tuna. But FADs end up trapping other marine animals like sharks, sea turtles and dolphins, and also catch young tuna, precluding them from breeding.
Conservation and public interest groups welcomed the measures, but were critical of the commission’s decision to increase the catch limit of bigeye tuna by nearly 10 per cent. Critics have pointed out that the Commission misinterpreted the Scientific Committee’s report in August as suggesting that the bigeye is not overfished.
Holly Koehler, vice-president, International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Washington, explains the scientific committee of the WCPFC had referred to uncertainty in the bigeye stock status and recommended to maintain the current level so as not to decrease biomass.
“That’s why we asked that fishing mortality on bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks not increase from current levels to maintain current or increased spawning levels until the commission can agree on appropriate target reference points,” Koehler tells SciDev.Net.
Amanda Nickson, a director at Pew Charitable Trusts, says raising the catch limit will weigh on the bigeye’s biomass. “Commission members should ensure negotiations start immediately toward a stronger measure next year, to ensure precautionary, science-based management of its fisheries,” she says.
The western and central Pacific Ocean accounted for nearly 60 per cent of the global tuna catch in 2016, worth over US$ five billion.
The 26 nations that govern the world’s biggest fishery left it to the last minute to agree to new rules for three economically crucial tropical tuna species – skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye.
PacNews reports the adoption of a new tropical tuna Bridging Measure at three o’clock in the morning on the last day of the meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission was greeted with applause after days of gruelling negotiations.
It is being hailed as a success for Commission Chair Rhea Moss-Christian.
Other measures approved by the Commission include action to address plastic marine pollution and to boost the capacity of Pacific nations to step up the fight against illegal fishing with more vessel inspections in their ports.
The meeting failed to reach agreement on measures for albacore tuna, proposed by Pacific countries, but did agree to prioritise albacore at next year’s meeting.
The Tropical Tuna Measure, which regulates a catch worth $US4.5 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.
“For this Commission to come away from this meeting without having a measure in place would have been a disgrace,” Rhea Moss-Christian told journalists after the decision.
Many distant water nations played a role in the final outcome but Ms Moss-Christian and the Forum Fisheries Agency highlighted the role of Japan, in particular.
The Pacific environmental agency SPREP says it’s happy with the progress made on conservation issues at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in The Philippines last week.
Measures approved by the commission included prohibiting the dumping of plastic from fishing vessels and moves to protect threatened species, namely seabirds, turtles and sharks.
SPREP’s threatened species advisor, Mike Donoghue, says they are substantive gains for conservation in the Pacific.
“We’re very pleased that we now have an opportunity to hold vessels and their skippers more accountable. We will be very pleased to work with Pacific island countries to and other interested parties to develop and deliver training modules so that crews understand that what used to be accepted practice in years gone by, just isn’t acceptable anymore, ” said Mike Donoghue.
In 2000, marine protected areas covered just 0.7 percent of the world’s oceans. Today 6.4 percent of the oceans are protected – about 9 million square miles. In 2010, 196 countries set a goal of protecting 10 percent of the world’s oceans by 2020.
Our research seeks to inform conservation policies that are effective, equitable and socially just. In our new study of established or proposed large marine protected areas in Bermuda, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Palau, Kiribati and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, we show that efforts to protect even remote sites can generate important outcomes for local residents that they may view as positive or negative. They can increase national pride and political leverage for indigenous populations, for example. They can also complicate international conservation negotiations or cause broad shifts in national economies.
Here we discuss the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, one of the world’s largest, which was created in 2015. This sanctuary illustrates how large-scale ocean conservation has the potential to produce important social benefits.
Palau is a small nation spread across several hundred islands in the western Pacific. As with many Pacific Island nations, Palau’s offshore tuna fishery is dominated by foreign vessels. Most of the revenues and fish that it produces are exported overseas. Only a small portion of the lowest-graded tuna makes it to Palau’s domestic market. At the same time, demand for seafood from Palau’s growing tourist industry is stressing other fish species in nearshore reefs.
As part of a sweeping conservation and development vision, the sanctuary designates 80 percent of Palau’s exclusive economic zone (defined in international law as waters extending from 12 up to 200 miles off its coastlines) as a no-take reserve, and the rest as a domestic fishing zone. Virtually all of the fish caught in this zone must be sold in Palau. Fishing in the no-take reserve will decline incrementally and end by 2020. Palau’s territorial, or coastal, waters lie outside the sanctuary boundaries, but are protected by other policies like the Protected Areas Network.
This design seeks to protect marine species by eliminating foreign commercial fishing in most of Palau’s waters, while developing a domestic fishing industry that supplies local markets with large open-ocean species like tuna. By shifting more consumption to these fish, it aims to reduce pressure on reef fisheries near shore. And by spotlighting these actions as part of a shift toward high-end tourism, it seeks to promote sustainable economic development.
As Palau’s President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. summarized, “The true purpose of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary is to protect our resources for our people.”
Translating these goals into action has triggered social changes within Palau. Sanctuary managers and nongovernment organizations are raising funds to provide more local fishermen with the midrange fishing vessels and capacity they need to access fish in the offshore domestic fishing zone. Many local fishermen are eager for this new livelihood source.
Palau’s government has drafted legislation and developed marketing campaigns that feature Palau’s conservation commitments. It is also increasing visitor fees and asking tourists to sign a Palau Pledge upon arrival, in which they promise to act in an environmentally and culturally responsible way during their stay.
While critics argue this strategy will do more for “rich tourists” than for conservation, we believe such assessments are premature. The goal is to limit the number of toilets flushing, divers on reefs and reef fish being eaten, while increasing revenue through higher returns from fewer visitors.
Importantly, we have seen no evidence that these changes will restrict local residents’ access to the spaces and resources they currently use. The domestic fishing zone is designed to give Palauans more access to fish in their waters. And Palau’s leaders have historically protected local access to the 445 Rock Islands – the primary destination for visitors – by designating only a small number for tourist use.
Linking offshore ocean protection to tradition
The marine sanctuary is also changing the way in which many Palauans relate to offshore ocean space. Palau’s council of highest ranking traditional leaders has enacted a customary law called a “bul” to protect the sanctuary through traditional protocols. A bul is conventionally used on land or in nearshore marine areas.
A member of Palau’s Council of Chiefs, which advises the president, told us that this is the first time traditional leaders have issued a bul in an offshore ocean area. This move has been controversial, but according to many of our interviewees, it grants the sanctuary a culturally important seal of approval and embeds offshore conservation within traditional knowledge and governance systems.
Of course, not all Palauans support the sanctuary. Some think the domestic fishing zone is too small, while others question how much protection the sanctuary actually offers for highly migratory open-ocean fish. Still others worry about possible lost fishing revenue or the impact of increasing visitor fees.
Future research should examine how these social changes unfold. So far, the evidence suggests that Palau’s sanctuary has potential to deliver both conservation and development gains.
Defining a new field
Palau’s sanctuary is one example of a new global phenomenon. But the race to create large ocean parks has outpaced science. Managers, along with biophysical and social scientists, are scrambling to answer questions about how well they work and who they benefit or harm.
Decades of research on smaller marine protected areas shows that they have to meet both biological and social goals to succeed. Now, more researchers are examining human dimensions across a number of large marine protected areas. Scientists can inform these conservation efforts by weighing evidence carefully in assessing how and why large ocean parks matter for people as well as for sea life.
MANILA, Philippines, December 7 – Environment NGOs have delivered a damning indictment of a group of Pacific Tuna Commission members, saying they have deliberately blocked conservation measures for the South Pacific Albacore tuna fishery.
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) is in the final hours of its week-long deliberation focused on new tropical tuna measures – the rules governing the fishery.
In the past 3 years moves to improve WCPFC rules for albacore have gone at a glacial pace.
“For years we have listened to impassioned pleas from every Pacific Island state with respect to their declining catch rates of South Pacific Albacore,” said Alfred (Bubba) Cook, Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager on behalf of WWF, Greenpeace and the EDF (Environmental Defense Fund).
But few Distant Water Fishing Nation members have been willing to join Pacific nations to take action.
“It seems, despite these impassioned pleas, despite the voluminous scientific and economic evidence put before you, you…don’t…care.
“You don’t care about the domestic industry in the Pacific. You don’t care about the communities in the Pacific Islands that are almost wholly dependent on this resource.
Moreover, you don’t appear to care about the health of the resource.”
The NGOs said most parties around the table had “bent over backwards” to try and accommodate a few demands and these members still refused to budge.
“There does not seem to be even a spirit of compromise. What would you agree to, honestly? Because despite the enormous efforts of most of the parties around the table, you continue to postpone adoption of target reference points and now claim that we should just wait for the next stock assessment or the next meeting or the next something.
“This, to us, seems like a crass delay tactic designed to buy one more year until you can develop another strategy to delay further. And meanwhile the Pacific industry and the countries that depend on the resource wither and die,” said Bubba Cook for the NGOs.
“What additional proof is required to convince you to be a good global citizen and inspire you to recognize your responsibility to the other countries and cultures in this room?
“Lastly, this is a disaster of your own making for a few of you.”
The NGOs said despite repeated calls and measures to limit capacity, these members had put more vessels into the fishery.
“And now, stunningly, you are upset at even the suggestion that you might have to withdraw that capacity and effort in the future. If you are worried about the potential impact on your industry, well, it is by your own hand and the rest of the members in this room shouldn’t have to suffer for your poor judgment.”
The NGOs said agreeing to a non-binding workplan left little satisfaction as it only served as another delay. They called on them to start living up to their collective responsibility to conserve and manage the critically important resource.
MANILA, Philippines, December 7— Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Director General James Movick announced the appointment of New Zealand’s Matthew Hooper to the position of Deputy Director-General of FFA to start during the first half of 2018.
The appointment comes as the current Deputy Director-General Wez Norris prepares to wrap up his final Tuna Commission meeting today.
“The contribution and impact made by Deputy Director-General Norris during his time with the agency has been lasting and impressive, and the extraordinary level of service from Wez to the organisation, and our members, is well-recognised,” said Movick.
“As he completes his final Tuna Commission in his pivotal role with the FFA team, I know our forum fisheries committee officials, leaders, development partners and stakeholders will similarly join me in welcoming the incoming Deputy Director.”
At a press briefing this week, Norris said this is the 11th time he has attended the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
“I think it’s a really significant achievement for the Commission as a whole that all four of the key tuna species are now in the green area of the Majuro plot so the conclusion for all of them is that there is no over fishing and over fishing is not occurring. This is the only RFMO [regional fisheries management organisation] in the world that can make that boast.”
“I certainly don’t take credit for that, everyone plays a role and everyone contributes to it and we’ve had a measure of good luck in terms of the science changing in terms of bigeye. I’m happy to be walking out the door with four sustainable key tuna stocks, but there are plenty of management challenges left for the next guy,” said Norris.
“I’m really confident that some of the progress that FFA has made over the last 5 years will be very well driven and supported by my successor.”
Hooper, who spent part of his childhood in Tokelau, and began his career in New Zealand fisheries in 1996, has been with the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade as the Counsellor (Primary Industries) and Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), based at the New Zealand Embassy in Rome.
In making the announcement from Manila, where the FFA delegation is supporting Pacific nations to the WCPFC meetings, Movick says the incoming deputy brings significant experience in Pacific tuna fisheries, including the WCPFC, to the role.
“He has national, regional and international experience in fisheries management and negotiations. He’s well known and respected for his capability to work with people and it’s a very tricky situation to help resolve issues,” Movick told the Pacific Media team in Manila yesterday.
Movick’s six year term at the head of FFA also ends next year. He says the appointment process should see a successor announced between May and July 2018.
This year’s meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission has concluded, with all but the Cook Islands happy with the result.
The meeting ran until the early hours of Friday morning despite being scheduled to finish on Thursday afternoon,
Nations were forced to make concessions to reach a deal.
Parties to the Nauru Agreement chief executive Ludwig Kumoru said the Cook Islands was disappointed with a lack of allocated fishing days in the high seas.
He said next year the commission would focus on enforcing the high seas but the negotiation of a new Tropical Tuna agreement had a successful outcome.
Also negotiated was permission for Samoa’s fishing vessels to directly offload in American Samoa instead of landing in Samoa first and shipping from there.
The commission noted the previous policy was unfair on Samoa, who was facing economic hardship through the reduction of albacore catch rates.
The commission also agreed to reduce average catch levels of Pacific bluefin tuna, adopt new standards for electronic reporting of observer data and introduce a commitment to strengthen responses to illegal fishing.
Commission chair Rhea Moss-Christian and executive director Feleti Teo said in a joint statement the meeting result would ensure the long-term sustainability of tuna stocks in the Western and Central Pacific fishery.
Members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission concluded a five-day conference in Manilla, The Philippines, earlier this week by increasing catch limits on tropical tunas. It’s a move at least one conservation group fears could threaten the bigeye stock.
Beginning next year, Japan will be able to catch up to 18,265 metric tons of bigeye tuna. South Korea was allotted a nearly 14,000-metric-ton limit, while Taiwan will be able to harvest nearly 10,500 metric tons. China received a limit of more than 8,200 metric tons, in addition to a one-time transfer of 500 metric tons from Japan in 2018. Indonesia received a provisional allotment of nearly 5,900 metric tons, and the United States, which won the right to use its Pacific territories to increase its limit, can catch more than 3,500 metric tons.
Those limits were set after the commission’s scientific committee concluded that the bigeye stock “appears” not to suffer from overfishing.
Amanda Nickson, who is the director of international fisheries for The Pew Charitable Trusts, called the decision to increase the limits by 10 percent disappointing. The commission’s decisions mean the bigeye stock have a greater than 20 percent chance of falling below its accepted biomass standards over the next 30 years.
“The inability to agree on measures that are in line with scientific advice puts into question the Commission’s ability to fulfill its mandate and meet the needs of the Pacific islands that depend on healthy tuna fisheries for economic security and the distant-water fishing nations that operate Pacific Ocean fleets,” she said.
In its agreement, the commission announced it encourage members to research methods that would reduce the catch of juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tunas. In addition, would review the bigeye catch limits based on any revised stock assessments and the recommendations of the scientific committee.
WCPFC members also said they intend to switch to a zone-based system of longline catch limits to replace the current method of flag-based limits within members’ exclusive economic zones.
The new measures are scheduled to take effect on 6 February and will run through 2020.
Nickson said she hopes the members continue their discussions with develop plans to better protect the stocks.
“The health of tropical tunas in the Pacific, and the communities who depend on them, requires it, and cannot wait [to restart negotiations] another year,” she said.
The Palau government’s case filed against the Philippine fish carrier, Gene 8, was dismissed last week due to lack of government witnesses.
The Attorney General’s Office filed a motion asking for a rescheduling of the trial, but Associate Justice Kathleen Salii denied the move.
Based on the motion of continuance of the AGO, the Palau government could not make its case without witnesses because they were unavailable to appear before the court as prosecution witnesses.
Palau’s marine law officers seized Gene 8 in December of 2016. Palau’s patrol boat PSS Remeliik was conducting its marine surveillance when it found the vessel 45 miles northwest of Helen Reef.
The Gene No.8 was found moored to a fishing aggregation device, after which the marine officers boarded the vessel for an inspection.
The marine officers who were part of the surveillance operation during the apprehension of Gene 8 were at the time of the trial either in training off-island or on a surveillance mission outside of Koror.
The AGO also cited that that a new civil attorney hired by the AG’s office to handle the case has left the country in October and his contract was subsequently terminated in November.
Defense counsel for Gene 8 opposed the motion, saying that the AGO office had enough time to prepare for the trial and that the absence of witnesses during the trial is “inexcusable,” since they were aware of the trial date 74 days earlier.
The court gave credence to the defense counsel opposition and ordered the case dismissed. Justice Salii also ordered the return of the cash bail posted by the owners of the fish carrier. Saliil also ordered that the surety bond and cash bail posted are exonerated.
The Gene 8 itself was released on Oct 1 after posting a surety bond and allowed to sail back to the Philippines with the three remaining Filipino fishermen sent back home with the boat.
The Palau government offered to settle the case prior to the trial but the defense rejected the offer.
Manila, Philippines —- Vietnam is again under pressure to explain what measures it will put in place to stop the small blue boats poaching the reef resources of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.
Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and New Caledonia representatives at the 14th Regular Session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) here reiterated that the Vietnamese blue boats are unwelcome in the region.
“We have a saying, that just because you are not catching them, does not mean they are not here,” Eugene Pangelinan, head of the FSM’s National Oceanic Resource Management Authority (NORMA).
Pangelinan said that before coming to the WCPFC meeting, there was optimism that the Vietnam government had heeded the calls for it to stop blue boats departures, as sightings in the Pacific had become rare since the incursions were brought to the attention of Hanoi at last year’s WCPFC meeting in Nadi, Fiji.
Although the blue boats target coastal reef resources and not tuna, Pangelinan said, this is still a problem of IUU fishing and affects the ecosystem.
“The tuna commission is managing tuna fisheries, what we are calling on Vietnam are to step up to the plate and undertake its flag obligations.
“We will be looking for Vietnam’s more detailed or direct response on their monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS),” Pangelinan said.
New Caledonia’s representative Manuel Ducrocq earlier warned the WCPFC that the blue boats are back in the region.
Last week New Caledonia intercepted two Vietnamese Blue boats in its waters.
In an update to journalists covering WCPFC he said 10 tonnes of gutted and salted sea cucumber were found on board in 58 barrels. Shark fins were also found during the apprehension. These had been caught in a shark sanctuary, in violation of international rules and New Caledonian law.
In addition, he revealed three more blue boats had been sighted sailing along the sea boundary between New Caledonian and Australian waters but the vessels had disappeared before authorities were able to apprehend them.
Ducrocq said blue boats are a problem in New Caledonia and pose a huge cost in feeding the crew members of the detained boats.
He said that this is a problem of IUU that Vietnam should fix.
Vietnam is a cooperating non-member of the WCPFC.
“If Vietnam’s response (to the blue boats issue) is not sufficient, we may have to review its status at the WCPFC,” Ducrocq warned.
“We are waiting to see whether they are serious or not. We must think positively and Vietnam has a unique opportunity here to make a change.”
Fisheries Forum Agency (FFA) Director General James Movick said this is a problem recognized by FFA members.
In May, FFA issued a collective statement to help Pacific countries to address the newest threat for Pacific reef systems, Vietnamese Blue Boats.
Movick said that aerial surveillance of the reef systems within Pacific exclusive economic zones is part of the tools that can be used to spot these blue boats.
“We hope that by January we start to mount the aerial surveillance program that we can deploy in North Pacific, in FSM and Palau,” Movick stated.