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“For the first time in its 70-year history, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission has completely withdrawn from management of tropical tunas,” the Pew Charitable Trusts Director of International Fisheries, Amanda Nickson, said in a release.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

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 Hugh.Walton@ffa.int.

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.

Enormous fisheries surveillance effort by FFA and members: media release

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Honiara, 28 October 2020 – One of the largest maritime surveillance operation in the world, Operation Kurukuru, concludes on Friday, 30 October, after two weeks of international cooperation by aircraft, ships, and national organisations to target illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing in the Pacific.

The Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) coordinates the surveillance operation, which spans 21.3 million square kilometres, the exclusive economic zones of 15 Pacific Island member states and adjacent high seas pockets. 

“It’s a vast area to monitor for IUU fishing. Activities such as Operation Kurukuru 20 underline the importance of our cooperation to ensure we can be effective in conducting surveillance and enforcement,” says FFA Director-General Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen. 

“It is a significant commitment by our Members and Partners. We sincerely thank all of those who participated across the Pacific. We work best when we work together.” 

GCPB Nafanua II being deployed for vessel boarding inspection during Operation Kurukuru. Photo: Samoa NHQ.
GCPB Nafanua II being deployed for vessel boarding inspection during Operation Kurukuru. Photo: Samoa NHQ.

There are 12 guardian class and Pacific patrol boats from Pacific nations operating alongside five French navy and United States coastguard vessels during Operation Kurukuru 2020. Six aircraft from the FFA and the quadrilateral regional partners are providing air surveillance, and trials are being conducted using satellites and other emerging technologies. 

Overall, 19 countries are involved in Operation Kurukuru 2020. Local and regional partners, including fisheries, maritime police, defence forces, and other maritime security agencies were encouraged to work closely alongside one another, and the results have been positive according to Surveillance Operations Officer Commander Robert Lewis, RAN. 

“Regional cooperation towards combatting IUU fishing is really progressing,” says Commander Lewis. “We’ve seen some excellent examples of organisations working together to share information and support national priorities during this operation.”

“We’ve already identified several potential vessels of interest; that is, they may be conducting illegal fishing, have inappropriate vessel markings, or be acting unusually. Ships or aircraft have been redeployed to look into these vessels further, and the investigations are ongoing with our FFA Members,” says Commander Lewis. 

The aim of Operation Kurukuru is to detect, deter, report and/ or apprehend potential UU fishing activity, but it also works to build capacity of national surveillance initiatives through support and mentoring from the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre at FFA. 

The operation involves 15 FFA members: Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Niue, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The four Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group members – Australia, France, New Zealand and United States – work alongside the nations. 

ENDS// 

Officers on the Fijian patrol vessel RFNS Savenaca assessing a fishing contact during Operation Kurukuru. Photo: Fiji NHQ.
Officers on the Fijian patrol vessel RFNS Savenaca assessing a fishing contact during Operation Kurukuru. Photo: Fiji NHQ.

For more information and photos contact Ronald F. Toito’ona, FFA Media, ph: +677 7304715, ronald.toitoona@ffa.int

About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)

FFA assists its 17 member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members, who make decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision-making on tuna management. Find out more here: www.ffa.int

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FFA thanks Solomon Islands Government for its support during pandemic: media release

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Honiara, 20 October 2020 – The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency has expressed its gratitude to the Solomon Islands Government for its assistance throughout the COVID-19 period during a visit by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Mr Collin Beck, to FFA headquarters.

Speaking at FFA, Mr Beck said: “The Solomon Islands Government, through our Ministry, is committed to supporting FFA to respond to the pandemic. As a host country, we will do all we can to ensure the work of FFA is able to continue during this difficult period.”

Solomon Islands Government’s assistance will include repatriating overseas staff to Honiara and measures to ensure critical activities can continue in the event of a lockdown.

FFA Director General Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen thanked the Government for its support.

“FFA was honoured to host Mr Collin Beck and his team for a meeting. We expressed our gratitude for the collaboration between the Solomon Islands Government and our secretariat here in Honiara to manage the impacts of the pandemic on our operations. We also took the opportunity to commend the Government more broadly for the measures it has taken to respond to COVID-19.”

The FFA Director-General, Dr Dr Tupou-Roosen (left) and His Excellency, Collin Beck (second right), with the two longest-serving staff of the FFA, Solomon Islands nationals Mrs Susan Olisukulu (second left) and Davinia Boso (right), in front of the FFA conference room named in their honour earlier this year.
The FFA Director-General, Dr Tupou-Roosen (left) and His Excellency, Collin Beck (second right), with the two longest-serving staff of the FFA, Solomon Islands nationals Mrs Susan Olisukulu (second left) and Davinia Boso (right), in front of the FFA conference room named in their honour earlier this year.

During his visit to FFA headquarters in Honiara, Mr Beck and his team toured the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre, to see first hand what FFA is doing to support member countries during the pandemic, as well as maintaining ongoing programs to combat illegal fishing.

COVID-related initiatives being managed by FFA include vessel contact tracing, which Solomon Islands has benefited from as an FFA Member country.

ENDS//

FFA staff with Mr Beck and his delegation at the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre
FFA staff with Mr Beck and his delegation at the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre

For more information and photos contact Ronald F. Toito’ona, FFA Media, ph: +677 7304715, ronald.toitoona@ffa.int

About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)

FFA assists its 17 member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members, who make decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision-making on tuna management. Find out more here www.ffa.int

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