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.
THE Tokelau Arrangement – an agreement which aims to get Pacific nations working together to manage albacore tuna stocks – is not the right approach for the country, says Under-Secretary for the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resource (MFMR) Ferral Lasi.
Solomon Islands has the biggest albacore fishery of any Pacific nation but confirmed recently it has has withdrawn from the Arrangement.
Speaking to journalists covering the 14th Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC14) in Manila, Mr Lasi said the reason for the withdrawal is based on what is best for the country.
He explained that although Solomon Islands had been assured that its catch allocation under the Arrangement would be based on its historical catch, this did not appear to be the case once the models are run.
“We can see consistently that our allocation has gone down. And so, we decided the best is for us to withdraw, we don’t want to be constrained, because we also have our localization policy, to have our own fleet.
“We are also using the Longline VDS system, which is in conflict with the catch-base system that the Tokelau Arrangement is proposing.
“So that is the reason why we pulled out,” Mr Lasi explained, during a press conference yesterday.
He added, the strengthening of the local Solomon Islands fisheries is part of the country’s policy for the future.
“Based on the longline VDS, we want to ring fence and get more control, …and we see the Arrangement as standing in the way, constraining our policy.
“The Tokelau Arrangement only caters for certain members of FFA. Not all the members are part of the agreement,” the HOD for the Solomon Islands delegation said.
When asked if the move will affect the Pacific Solidarity in the Tuna industry, Mr Lasi said the country did not see this as something that will affect the pacific solidarity, but as an opportunity to breakout and regroup and to form a better Arrangement.
However, the Pacific Islands Tuna Industries Association (PITIA) was dismayed by the news on the country’s withdrawal.
“… actually it was disappointing for the industry, it was disappointing probably for the Pacific island region as well,” John Maefiti, Executive Officer of the Honiara based Tuna Industries Association, told the media
“We should sit down at the table and discuss our differences and look at ways to go forward.
“We just have to show the world that we are together in this and we should fight together in this and not try to show them our weak points by showing our differences in this type of initiative.” Mr Maefiti said.
THE Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) says it was very unfortunate that the Solomon Islands has pulled out from the agreement, which now signals possible changes for the future of the albacore fishery.
FFA’s Deputy Director General, Wez Norris, told journalists in Manila it was unfortunate that Solomon Islands made the decision at the time that they did.
“What we were very much hoping to achieve, was to finalize the negotiations of the (Tokelau Arrangement) catch management agreement, which we were very close to doing and then allow each country to consider it as a whole complete package and decide whether their interested to participate or not,” Norris explained.
“Unfortunately we didn’t get the opportunity to cross that final line, …this only happened at the beginning of November and we and the other countries and the Solomon Islands haven’t really had the opportunity to .. get our breath back after all of that push, and work out where we stand and what we’re going to do next for the collective management for the Albacore fishery.
“Solomon’s in the past has been one of the largest albacore producers from its EEZ and so therefore we can understand the strong need to protect their own interests,” said Mr Norris.
However, the DDG said the Solomon Islands has the most to gain from a sustainable albacore fishery and they also have the most to lose from an unsustainable albacore fishery.
“So the FFA will continue to work with them and see where they can come along.
Mr Norris moved on to explain that, he thinks what their Solomon Islands decision making follows on from an earlier decision from Cook Islands to also withdraw.
“I think what that shows us is that we need to take a step backwards and work out sort of see what lessons we can learn from the process that we’ve just been through and then see on how we can get a sort of better design a future process that will give everyone the assurances that they need, Mr Norris said.
“I’m actually confident that, had we finished the negotiation of this, then we would have been able to make a case to all of the albacore countries as to why it was in their interest.
“But as I say, there’s certainly some lessons we can learn about what happened and why before we go back the negotiation way,” the Deputy Director General, who will soon leave the FFA said.
The survival of the Pacific’s domestic tuna longline fishery is at stake without more effective management of fishing in the High Seas – those areas outside of the waters of the region’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones.
Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association (PITIA) Executive Officer John Maefiti says the fishery is a shadow of what was once a viable and attractive industry because the regional body that sets the rules for fishing has failed to control a “massive” increase in High Seas fishing by distant water fishing nations, especially by Taiwan and China.
“The industry has been trying to adapt to the tough conditions of the past few years. If we keep going this way, boats will be tied up and companies closed down,” he says.
Maefiti presented the industry’s concerns to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), better known as the Tuna Commission, at its 14th annual meeting in Manila, Philippines today. The Commission brings together the resource owners – the Pacific Island states – with the distant water fishing nations to set rules, usually by consensus, that address the conservation and management of tuna fisheries. The differing interests of the parties make it hard to agree on effective measures. More than 60 per cent of the global catch of albacore, bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tunas come from the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). In 2015 the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) island nation’s longline fleets catch in the WCPO was worth around US$436 million.
Maefiti said the Commission continues to fail to respond to the dire conditions of the Southern longline fishery impacting the domestic fishing industry of the Pacific Island states.
“Nobody can deny the perilous commercial state of this fishery. Catch rates simply cannot support current costs, leaving many companies just barely surviving,” he said at the Commission meeting.
The Southern longline fishery is the part of the fishery that is south of 10 degrees south of the equator in the WCPFC Convention Area.
Maefiti said the domestic industry generates critical revenue for Pacific Island states and employs thousands of people in the region.
PITIA’s position echoed Samoa’s statement at the opening of the week-long Commission meeting on Sunday. Samoa’s Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries Lopao’o Natanielu Mu’a told the Commission that its domestic longline fleet has struggled to survive poor economic conditions as a result of prolonged reduction in catch rates for South Pacific Albacore.
“This deteriorating situation had resulted in the need to change the norms of operation for our tuna industry to mitigate the poor economic conditions or otherwise risk a shutdown altogether of our domestic tuna fishery.
“We have seen both a general decline in catch rates and vulnerable levels of spawning biomass for this stock over the years,” said Mu’a.
Samoa is concerned that the scientific assessment of South Pacific Albacore suggests stocks are declining and that there is a 17 per cent chance that stocks could drop below the critical 20 per cent of pre-fishing levels in the next 12 months.
“The deteriorating status of the South Pacific Albacore must not be allowed to continue and the Commission is obligated to implement management measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of this resource.”
Briefing Pacific Islands media in Manila, Maefiti said PITIA members are also calling for the Commission to come to an agreement on a harvest strategy for South Pacific Albacore, which will set a target reference point (TRP), and develop a harvest control rules to give effect to the strategy. The TRP is the optimal fish stock level for sustainable fishing.
“The catch rate is falling due mainly to the distant-water fishing nations fishing on the High Seas, especially Taiwan and China,” he says.
He told the Commission that its inability to control High Seas fishing effort is a sad indictment on its ability to manage the fisheries under its charge.
“This is a critically important fishery for our fishing industry and PITIA strongly urges the WCPFC to make a decision to ensure the long term commercial viability and sustainability of our Southern long line fishery.”
Representatives of Fiji’s and Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) domestic industry also shared their concern with Pacific media.
Fabian Chow, Treasurer of PNG’s Fishing Industry Association said the long-term vision for growing the domestic industry was being handicapped by changes in policies driven by fiscal pressures and short-term thinking.
“Our members are hurting out there. They are generating red ink.”
Chow said the industry has had its successes, and can grow if there is investment.
“You don’t imagine what a tuna cannery means to a small province, how it can transform the hopes and aspirations of those people,” said Chow.
In addition to concerns for the longline fishery, Maefiti said it was disappointing for PITIA and its members to see the Solomon Islands withdraw its support of the Tokelau Arrangement which aims to set limits for albacore catch in the region.
“We were putting our hopes on the Pacific Island states to fight in solidarity for the fishery. Its not looking good for the industry,” he said.
“We have to stay together so that we can have more leverage in these negotiations. The sustainability of this resource is very important for the Pacific Island states. We have to show the world that we are together in this.”
Maefiti said more transparency around the Commission meeting is needed to ensure that the people of the region know what decisions are being made. He said it was up to civil society organisations and the media to help the people of the Pacific understand the challenges and the potential benefits of sustainable fishing for their economic development and future generations.
Maefiti says he was encouraged by the coverage provided by the PACNEWS/Forum Fisheries Agency Pacific media team.
“We need to inform our people about what’s happening in there. All the policies we put in place should benefit the people. This is a publicly-owned resource.”