Bigeye, yellowfin, South Pacific albacore, and skipjack tuna are all reported to be in healthy condition, according to a 2018 stock assessment announced this week during the 16th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.
The stock-assessment report of the Pacific Community (SPC) stated that the estimate of the total tuna catch in the WCPFC Convention Area for 2018 is 2,790,859 metric tons (MT), which represents 81% of the total Pacific Ocean catch of 3,443,174 MT, and 54% of the global tuna catch, which was 5,172,543 MT.
According to SPC’s overview of the tuna fisheries paper, the total estimated value of the tuna catch in the convention area increased by 1% to US$6.01 billion (€5.47 billion) in 2018.
The value of the purse-seine catch is US$3.26 billion (€2.9 billion), accounting for 54% of the total value of the tuna catch. The value of the longline fishery increased 16% to US$1.72 billion (€1.5 billion), accounting for 29% of the total value of the tuna catch.
WCPFC Executive Director Feleti Teo said, in his opening statement at the meeting on 5 December, that the region has high levels of tuna production. He said the region’s key commercial tuna stocks of bigeye, skipjack, albacore, and yellowfin were “assessed to have been managed and maintained above agreed sustainable levels”.
Teo added that, compared to other ocean regions, the tuna stocks in the region are not overfished.
Graham Pilling, director of the Oceanic Fisheries Program at the Pacific Community, added in a media release that conservation measures have contributed to the sustainability of the Pacific tuna stock.
“The healthy status of WCPO tuna stocks is attributed to the management of the fishery through the WCPFC process and its members, including the key roles played by the Pacific island member-countries and subregional fisheries agencies including the Fisheries Forum Agency [FFA] and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement [PNA],” Pilling said.
Despite the positive assessment, Teo said that the tuna commission should continue with its collective conservation efforts and not “to be complacent and to be less vigilant”.
But the Pacific Community also pointed out that there are still challenges such as the state of certain Western Central Pacific Ocean billfish and shark stocks that need to be addressed by the Commission. It said they are in need of urgent attention.
Economic impacts resulting from the recent decline in the price of skipjack tuna also poses a challenge in the region. Skipjack prices have fallen below US$1,000 (€900) per MT for the first time in a number of years.
But the WCPFC is developing and implementing harvest strategies for key tuna stocks to address the challenges, WCPFC Chair Jung-re Riley Kim said.
“I am very grateful to SPC for their significant contribution to providing science and data inputs into the important harvest strategy work of the commission, and their innovative efforts and initiatives to engage with cooperating members, cooperating non-members and participating territories, and contribute to building their capacity in terms of harvest strategy,” Kim said in a release.
Yellowfin tuna … stocks of this and other species are a focus of FFA’s platform at WCPFC16. Photo: WWF
PORT MORESBY, 4 December 2019 – Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) members have developed a comprehensive list of priorities for the 16th meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC16), including climate change as a central plank.
The meeting opens in Port Moresby tomorrow, 5 December.
Forum Fisheries Committee Chair Eugene Pangelinan, of the Federated States of Micronesia, commended FFA members for their strong commitment and solidarity in preparing for WCPFC16, before listing the priorities for FFA Members which include progress on target reference points for key tuna stocks, tightening up monitoring of transshipment on the high seas, improving the process for reviewing compliance with measures, and making progress on high seas limits and management of longline fisheries.
FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said FFA members are calling on the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to take stronger action on climate change.
“Climate change is the defining challenge of our generation and the impact on Pacific Island countries is particularly threatening, given that tuna fisheries provide significant economic, social and cultural benefits,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.
“FFA is asking for increased attention by Commission scientists on the implications of climate change for the region’s tuna stocks, and consideration of what conservation and management measures (CMMs) can be put in place to reduce the carbon footprint of both Commission activities and fishing in Pacific waters managed by the Commission.
“Our members are proposing a resolution on Climate Change.”
Enhanced consultation between the WCPFC and small island developing states (SIDS) is also a key agenda item for FFA this year.
Mr Pangelinan said that FFA would be pushing in Port Moresby for Commission members to consult more comprehensively with SIDS when proposing new measures.
“Unfortunately, some measures have been presented to the Commission with inadequate assessments of the potential impacts on SIDS. For example, any measure that has significant implementation requirements should be informed by direct consultation with small island developing states,” he said
Mr Pangelinan and Dr Tupou-Roosen concluded by expressing thanks on behalf of FFA to Papua New Guinea for hosting this year’s Commission meeting.
Further details about key issues for FFA Members at WCPFC16 are in the attached below in the media backgrounder.
Media enquiries: Mr Tevita Tupou, +675 7333 9945
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. www.ffa.int
Media backgrounder: Summary of key FFA agenda items for WCPFC16
Following are details of FFA’s key priorities at WCPFC16.
The FFC Chair and the FFA Director-General will be available for brief media conferences or interviews during the Commission meeting, as time permits. Please direct requests to Mr Tevita Tupou on +675 7333 9945 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Climate change
Tuna fisheries are a critical resource for many Pacific Island countries, providing essential social and economic benefits. The impacts of climate change are particularly severe in the Pacific and place at great risk the benefits of the region’s tuna fisheries for small island developing states (SIDS).
FFA members are therefore calling on the WCPFC to collectively take stronger action on climate change, and will introduce resolution DP04 seeking that the Commission:
Fully recognise the impacts of climate change, in particular on the fisheries, food security and livelihoods of small island developing states and territories.
Take into account in its deliberations, including in the development of conservation and management measures, the impacts of climate change on target stocks, non-target species, and species belonging to the same ecosystem or dependent or associated with the target stocks.
Estimate the carbon footprint of fishing and related activities in the Convention Area for fish stocks managed by the Commission and develop appropriate measures to reduce such footprint.
Develop options such as carbon offsets to decrease the collective carbon footprint of CCMs and the WCPFC Secretariat associated with meetings of the Commission and its subsidiary bodies.
2. Tuna measures
The skipjack target reference point (TRP) is due for review at WCPFC16. FFA members support the Scientific Committee recommendation that the review be informed by the latest stock assessment. This indicates that a spawning biomass depletion ratio of 42% will achieve roughly the same fishery outcomes as the 50% TRP was projected to achieve when it was adopted in 2015.
Therefore, our recommendation is that the Commission adopt a 42% TRP, which is consistent with the level of fishing and the status of the skipjack stock in 2012.
Bigeye and yellowfin tuna
WCPFC16 is due to agree TRPs for yellowfin and bigeye tuna, which will be important in terms of implementing harvest strategies.
FFA members want to maintain bigeye and yellowfin stocks at levels that will create a very low risk of breaching the limit reference points (LRPs), consistent with the UN Fish Stocks Agreement guidelines. They also want modest increases in stock levels, to support ongoing economic management of the purse-seine fishery and to facilitate development opportunities for the SIDS’ longline fisheries.
In the absence of agreement on new TRPs, FFA feels strongly that the current objectives in the Tropical Tuna Measure for Yellowfin and Bigeye must be maintained. We also believe the economic, social and biological implications of the TRPs must be carefully considered, including their interaction with the TRP for skipjack tuna.
Reaching agreement on these TRPs at WCPFC16 is a challenging task, given the diverse objectives of Commission members. If consensus isn’t possible, WCPFC16 needs to clearly identify any further technical work required to support a decision in 2020, and capacity building to ensure all Commission members understand the implications of harvest strategy elements.
South West Pacific swordfish
FFA will encourage WCPFC16 to support advice from the Scientific Committee that current conservation and management measures for Swordfish (CMM 2009-03) need to be strengthened.
North Pacific swordfish and North Pacific albacore tuna appear to be in relatively good shape, but the Pacific bluefin stock level remains a problem, and this risks the reputation of the WCPFC when the health of other stocks demonstrates good management.
South Pacific Albacore work plan
FFA is seeking renewed focus on the work to build the South Pacific albacore fishery to the TRP agreed in 2018.
FFA has taken the lead in revising the South Pacific Albacore Roadmap work plan, to focus on setting an overall hard limit and on the split of the overall hard limit between the high seas and the exclusive economic zones (EEZs).
The other priority is to ensure that the new measure for South Pacific albacore recognise zone-based management (ZBM), EEZ limits, data collection, and reporting requirements.
3. High seas limits
High seas limits and allocation are also a focus for FFA this year. FFA is providing perspectives to the Commission on the provisions of CMM 2018-01 that commit to limits and an allocation framework for the purse seine and longline fisheries in the high seas. FFA members will promote agreement on a process for 2020 for advancing negotiations on high seas limits, with a view to reaching an agreement at WCPFC17.
FFA members will promote agreement on a process for 2020 for advancing negotiations on high seas limits, with a view to reaching an agreement at WCPFC17.
4. Compliance monitoring scheme
FFA members have worked hard with other Commission members over the last several years in the review of the Compliance Monitoring Scheme. Of high priority in the reform of the scheme is the way in which the Commission reviews the performance of members in implementing their monitoring and enforcement obligations at the national level. FFA members support the Commission’s role in identifying and targeting systemic issues with the implementation of obligations by Commission members and moving away from reviewing and assessing the actions of individual vessels. The core purpose of the Compliance Monitoring Scheme is to review the actions of flag states in respect of their vessel activities, and not of the individual vessels themselves. This approach is taken with a view to promoting and supporting compliance by all members as the foundation for achieving Commission management objectives.
FFA members remain concerned about the lack of effective monitoring of transhipment on the high seas, particularly by large-scale freezer longline vessels. This constitutes a significant gap in our ability to monitor and verify longline catches on the high seas, and we consider it to be a high priority issue for the Commission’s work to stamp out illegal fishing.
The FFA is seeking finalisation of the Transhipment Intersessional Working Group’s 2020 work plan, with a focus on identifying gaps in the current measure and defining measures to close those gaps.
Our members will advocate at WCPFC16 for adequate resources for this important work.
6. Harvest strategy
FFA is seeking more detailed economic analyses to support the harvest strategy work plan as it enters a complex stage at WCPFC16. FFA’s position is what while the work plan should be ambitious, it must also be realistic and there is a need for capacity building for SIDS and other Commission members to ensure they fully understand the harvest strategy work and its implications.
One of the key issues before the Commission will be targets for multiple species and how these might be achieved (e.g. harvest-control rules). FFA notes that SC15 endorsed a hierarchical approach for multi-species considerations. Members want further time to consider the implications of this, noting that it is likely to involve changes to the structure of the work plan.
7. Consultation with SIDS
FFA members are concerned about the lack of consultation with SIDS by some WCPFC member nations when proposing new measures to the Commission.
Some measures have been presented to the Commission with inadequate assessments of the potential impacts on SIDS, including implementation costs where additional investment will be required. Impact assessments require consultation and this must take place well in advance of Commission meetings when new proposals are being considered
On another issue, FFA members look forward to receiving the WCPFC Secretariat’s report on the first year of the Strategic Investment Plan.FFA members express appreciation for the voluntary contributions from Australia, Canada, Korea and the United States to the Special Requirements Fund.
8. Electronic reporting and monitoring
FFA views the Electronic Reporting (ER) and Electronic Monitoring (EM) Working Group as extremely important, particularly for the longline fishery where the reporting record of many vessels is poor and independent verification of vessel reporting through observer courage is struggling to reach 5%.
As standards and procedures for ER for both operational catch and observers have now been agreed for two years, FFA believes a date should be set for 100% electronic reporting by all active vessels on the Record of Fishing Vessels (RFV), and by all observers.
We note that many FFA members are implementing ER for fishing within their EEZs, and propose that ER be implemented for all fishing on the high seas by the start of the 2022 fishing year.
The next step is to recommend Commission-wide minimum standards for electronic monitoring (EM). The work that done this year on reviewing data requirements and sources and determining priority gaps, should enable the Working Group to progress this task in 2020.
Mobulid ray measure
FFA members are putting forward a proposal for a new measure to prevent targeted fishing and retention, and promote the safe release, of mobulid rays such as manta rays when they are caught by WCPFC fisheries.
10. Charter Notification Scheme
As CMM 2016-05 expires this year, FFA members propose a roll-over of the measure for a further two years. The Charter Notification Scheme is an essential component of WCPFC’s fisheries management framework and facilitates SIDS’ participation in fisheries. For example, chartering provides a mechanism for SIDS to develop their own commercial tuna fisheries in an incremental manner without requiring an unaffordable initial capital investment.
11. Harmful fisheries subsidies
FFA members reiterate the call by Pacific fisheries ministers at the 16th FFC Ministerial Meeting in June 2019 for negotiations to be completed on a new WTO agreement to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies.
These subsidies can contribute to economic losses in the fisheries sector and distort global fish markets, with serious impacts on food security and livelihoods, particularly in SIDS.
We support the ministers’ view that any outcome should not unnecessarily constrain the ability of SIDS to develop their tuna fisheries and that appropriate differential treatment for SIDS should be an integral part of these negotiations.
The following acronyms will be in common use during WCPFC16.
It said all four species that are economically important in the region – skipjack, South Pacific albacore, yellowfin and bigeye – are being fished sustainably.
In the parlance of the report, “none is being overfished, and overfishing is not occurring”, although there was “no room for complacency” in how fish stocks are managed because all four species continue to decline overall.
The abundance of a species is estimated against a benchmark, called a target reference point (TRP), which is a desirable level of stock needed to maintain the healthy functioning of the species, the environment it lives in, and the sustainability of fishing.
The report card said that numbers of skipjack tuna are above the target reference point (TRP) for that species. TRPs are being developed for the other three species.
The report noted that the value of tuna fishing to the region is increasing, and had passed the target for 2020.
Local employment in the tuna industry was also increasing, and was on target to meet the 2023 target.
More skipjack and yellowfin tuna will move to the tropical waters, while albacore, Atlantic bluefin, bigeye and southern bluefin will shift into colder seas in the future, according to research led by AZTI, a Spanish research body.
If a coastal country’s local fleet anticipates the changes in abundance and distribution of the target species, it may adapt its fishing gear or change its target species, said Haritz Arrizabalaga, who carried out the study with Maite Erauskin-Extramiana.
“Knowing in advance what will happen in the future enables adaptation strategies to the transformations to be drawn up. [A coastal country’s local fleet] may be able to continue fishing the same species, but investing in larger vessels, capable of going out further in search of these species,” said Arrizabalaga.
The researchers took into account the effect of the environmental conditions on the worldwide distribution of tuna species, such as albacore, Atlantic bluefin, southern bluefin, tropical bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin between 1958 and 2004. This enables the influence of climate change in the future to be assessed and specific predictions to be made, they claim. The study has been published Global Change Biology.
“During the historical period analyzed, the habitat distribution limits of the tuna have moved towards the poles at a rate of 6.5 kilometers per decade in the northern hemisphere and 5.5km per decade in the southern one. Based on the influence of climate change, even strong changes in tuna distribution and abundance are expected in the future, particularly at the end of the century (2088 – 2099),” said Arrizabalaga.
More specifically, the study forecasts that temperate tuna species, such as albacore, Atlantic bluefin and southern bluefin, will move towards the poles. Bigeye tuna will reduce its presence in the tropics and will move to warmer areas. On the other hand, the analysis predicts that the main two canned tuna species — skipjack and yellowfin — will become more abundant in the tropical areas, as well as in most of the fishing areas of coastal countries, or in other words, in the maritime economic exclusive zones which stretches from their coastline to a distance of 200 nautical miles.
“Tuna predictions offers relatively good news for tuna fishing to continue as an important food source, due to the origin of the main tuna protein consumption in humans comes from skipjack and yellowfin tuna from the tropical area,” said Arrizabalaga.
The study has enabled analysis on how the worldwide distribution and abundance of the main tuna species will vary due to climate change and, in this way, quantify the future trends of the tuna populations.
“Tuna species are resources of enormous economic importance and a key source of protein for much of the population. As a result of climate change, their habitat distribution is changing and, related to this, the opportunities of different countries to access this source of wealth. This study aims to explain what has happened in the past and predict what will happen in the future so that countries and fishing fleets can come up with adaptation strategies to the new circumstances,” said Erauskin-Extramiana.
A newer method of assessing bigeye tuna stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean has resulted into a more positive appraisal of the population.
In 2014, the key scientists responsible for assessing the stock published new studies suggesting bigeye tuna stocks were down to 16 percent of the original population – a critical level.
Now the same scientists have completed much more detailed studies which suggest bigeye tuna are at 32 percent of their potential population.
Dr John Hampton told Pacific journalists here at the meeting of the region’s tuna management body, the Central and Western Pacific Fisheries Commission, that the latest assessment indicated a more productive stock that is more resilient to fishing that had previously been estimated.
Hampton, one of the marine biologists of the WCPFC Scientific Committee, said he and his colleagues have changed the way they measure the population and now have a different estimate on population size.
New research indicates bigeye grow and mature faster than they previously thought and do not grow as big.
The work is based on detailed data collected across the Pacific since 2011.
Analysis of the data was only completed early this year.
The results are a ‘profound’ change according to Dr Hampton and there is still much uncertainty, so in order to determine whether the big eye tuna stocks have decreased or increased, they need to keep studying the population using their new methods for longer period.
“I should say when we do these assessments we don’t just do one analysis using one formulation of the dynamics, we use a whole bunch of stock assessment models that try to capture all the different areas of uncertainty that we have throughout the stock so that we can capture and present what we hope is an honest assessment of the stock so that we can present a picture of what we know and what we don’t know,” Hampton said.
The current fishing rules for bigeye are contained in a resolution of WCPFC called the Tropical Tuna Measure, which expires at the end of the year.
Representatives from over 30 countries here at WCPFC14 in Manila have the job of deciding what will replace the Tropical Tuna Measure.
The Scientific Committee has recommended that there be no increase in bigeye mortality.
Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Director General James Movick too, warns that even with the more optimistic stock assessment, there is still no room for complacency when it comes to managing the stocks,
“It would be dangerous to suggest that given the current state of the stocks, maybe we can permit more fishing, particularly for bigeye,” Movick told reporters here over the weekend.
“The FAD closure measures agreed to by Pacific countries, even at an economic cost to them, have contributed to improvement in the stock status, and our general position is that we should — particularly at this early stage–call for caution,” he said.
Wez Norris, FFA Deputy Director General in today’s briefing with reporters said that there are some suggestions from (WCPFC) member nations that because of the tuna stocks positive assessment, fishing measures can be relaxed.
“I think the main concern for us ..is some fairly generous interpretations of the science in terms of how far we can relax existing measures.’ Norris said
The scientists are expected to deliver a more definitive report on their new studies next year.