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 However, Mr Pangelinan said on Monday, this proposal had been withdrawn, and was now deferred until next year.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.

Accuracy and speed needed to prepare tuna for same-day delivery around the world

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The people who cut up tuna at the Marshall Islands Fishing Venture (MIFV) processing facility in Majuro make it look easy – but there’s a lot of skill involved in working so quickly and accurately.

The tuna in this video, yellowfin and bigeye, is destined for tables in the United States, Canada and Japan. The factory is supplied by a fleet of locally based longline fishing boats, and the MIFV workers process the tuna for same-day air delivery via Asia Pacific Airlines (APA) to the overseas markets.

MIFV and APA are subsidiaries of Luen Thai Fishing Venture, which also operates a longline tuna processing operation in Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia. It is similar to the one in Majuro. Luen Thai is one of the largest fishing and seafood companies in the Asia–Pacific region. Its integrated fishing business provides services such as base operations, logistics, and the processing and marketing of tuna and other seafood products to customers in the South Pacific, Japan and other eastern Asian countries, the US, and Europe. 

Video by Hilary Hosia, Marshall Islands Journal