Tuna fishers will have to do everything they can to save rays, including the magnificent manta ray, that are unintentionally caught during fishing operations.
Several species of mobulid rays, which include the mantas, are perilously close to extinction. One of the reasons for this is the numbers that die when they become part of the tuna catch.
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) hopes to reverse the trend to extinction. At its 16th annual meeting, delegates agreed on tougher rules aimed at helping rays survive industrial fishing operations. (Wildlife caught accidentally during fishing is known collectively as bycatch.)
According to World Wildlife Fund, every year between 13,000 and 19,000 seabirds, particularly albatrosses and petrels, die after being caught on longline hooks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean — even though a conservation and management measure already exists to protect them.
The new guidelines are simple so that they can be followed easily, and so are the materials needed to safely release seabirds: a towel or blanket, pliers, net, a box or bin, and gloves. Most of these are already likely to be on longline vessels.
Although the guidelines aren’t binding, they do mark a step up in WCPFC’s push for a sustainable tuna industry.
conservation management measures (CMM) endorsed on the non-target species of mobulid rays and sharks
FFA summarises WCPFC16 outcomes for Pacific priorities
When Ms Jung-re Riley Kim, the Chair of the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), officially closed its 16th annual meeting on Wednesday, Pacific officials finally relaxed and allowed themselves muted celebrations for a job well done.
Praise for major decisions made by WCPFC16
The Chair of the Pacific’s Forum Fisheries Committee, Mr Eugene Pangelinan, told regional journalists at the final media conference, “This is a very successful WCPFC16, and wonderful hosting by the people and government of Papua New Guinea and the National Fisheries Agency.”
“There’s been some very good outcomes, and the first one is the adoption of the climate-change resolution. From the FFA members’ perspective, that is one of the key priorities we wanted to get out of this meeting, given that one of the things our ministers tasked us to advocate for at the WCPFC was to address climate-change issues in relation to fisheries.”
He said another great outcome was the continuation of the Compliance Monitoring Scheme (CMS) for the next two years.
“The compliance scheme ensures members are held accountable to their obligations and goes a long way to ensuring sustainable fisheries management for the region,” Mr Pangelinan said.
Mr Bubba Cook of the World Wildlife Fund paid tribute to Pacific leadership at the meeting.
He said that the climate resolution “demonstrates that in two consecutive years we have seen a measure that’s been passed – crew welfare in 2018 and now climate change – that is reflective of the leadership in the Pacific island members. The [show a] willingness to take on the tough and challenging issues and provide solutions to those issues, so we are very encouraged by that motivation.”
The Director-General for FFA, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, added and re-emphasised the importance of the climate decision. She pointed out its valuable role as a “starting point to increase the focus of the Commission in this critical space so we look forward to that active work in this area with all Commission members”.
She acknowledged the work by Pacific countries as well as other Commission members, “underlining that no one achieves anything alone. Our members have worked really hard including with all Commission members to get to the point we’re at tonight.”
Dr Tupou-Roosen also highlighted positive outcomes for other species that get caught up indirectly as fishers chase the tuna harvest.
But some FFA priorities did not progress as well as hoped
But there were also a number of priority issues that did not progress as well as they should.
Mr Pangelinan said, “We were not able to agree on how we are going to proceed with the discussions in terms of the high-seas allocations. That’s something that has been somewhat watered down and now we are going to tackle it at the next WCPFC meeting.”
Mr Glen Holmes, international fisheries officer with Pew Charitable Trusts, praised the success of the rays CMM, but said that work on harvest strategies didn’t go far enough.
“We are very happy with the adoption of the mantas CMM. We think that was a big win for the Commission,” he said.
“But I think there was a very big missed opportunity for the Commission to establish a dedicated meeting for scientists and managers to meet to discuss the issues around harvest-management strategies to further progress that part of the Commission that will lead to a more sustainable management of the stocks into the future.”
Mr Bubba Cook expanded on perceived missed opportunities.
“We think there was some significant progress around a number of issues at the meeting, specifically around harvest-strategy development, but we also remain concerned that some of the measures were not quite as robust as they could have been, particularly for the sharks CMM.
“We have one of the most endangered stock of sharks here in the Pacific with the oceanic whitetip and there were a couple of provisions that would have gone a long way to help with sharks and ensure the long-term sustainability of those stocks. But at the same time there was a great amount of effort that went into the CMM for sharks and it reflects a lot of willingness to compromise around the table, and I certainly would like to acknowledge that as well.
“The manta and mobulid [rays] CMM was also a big step and we are certainly happy to see that move forward.”
Although there was no movement in the skipjack target reference point (TRP) negotiations that are important to members to the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), there was no harm done, according to Chief Executive Officer for the PNA Office, Mr Ludwig Kumoru.
“Overall, we are happy with the outcome of this Commission meeting,” Mr Kumoru said.
“Our major objective was on the TRP. It may be seen as a push back, but for PNA it is still acceptable, we still have time to work on it. I think if we rushed it and got to a decision where we wouldn’t be comfortable then we would be in a very difficult position. So, we are comfortable with the outcome. The stock is not in the red; it is in the green we can still buy some time and look at ways to address it.”
Looking to the future
In summing up, Mr Pangelinan said, “The Commission has done very well in discussions about future tools that the Commission wants to use to improve monitoring. And two of those are electronic reporting and electronic monitoring. From the FFA perspective, these are important tools that will help fill the gaps in the data from fishing on the high seas in particular and the longline operations.
“So that is something that we also want to highlight: that adopting/agreeing to the objectives here, was a big step to progress the work of the Commission.”
FFA summary of WCPFC outcomes on Pacific priorities
Climate-change resolution – resolution adopted
WCPFC adopted a resolution on climate change based on the draft that was put forward by FFA members at the start of the meeting. This was a significant milestone for the Commission and a great success for FFA Members. The resolution responds to the call from Pacific Islands Forum leaders for increased attention, including in scientific research, to be placed on the impacts of climate change on the region’s highly migratory tuna stocks.
The non-binding resolution also looks at the links between fishing activity and climate change, and for the Commission to consider options to reduce the environmental impacts related to headquarters operations and meetings.
FFA members’ proposal to reform the WCPFC Compliance Monitoring Scheme was one of the hardest issues discussed at WCPFC16.
Cook Islands led the charge for FFA members and, after extensive negotiations, agreement was reached on the last day to a revised measure which focuses compliance monitoring on the implementation of measures by members rather than delving into the detail of individual cases involving fishing vessels that are the better dealt with through other mechanisms.
This was a significant achievement for FFA members, and should see the WCPFC compliance-monitoring process remain the strongest of all the tuna regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs). The measure agreed to applies for two years, giving time for additional work to take place on additional elements of the scheme including a refinement of audit points and the development of a risk-based framework.
South Pacific albacore – clear direction for roadmap in 2020
There were two informal meetings, chaired by Fiji, of the small working group to discuss the way forward for South Pacific albacore tuna.
The terms of reference and the work plan for the South Pacific albacore roadmap process were progressed, with a focus on rebuilding stock so that catch rates improve. This will assist in improving the economic viability of the fishery.
The roadmap group will hold two face-to-face meetings in 2020, in the margins of the Scientific Committee meeting in August and the Technical and Compliance Committee meeting in September. This should ensure good progress is made before the Commission considers a revised measure in December 2020.
High-seas limits and allocation – two extra days for WCPFC17
While there was general agreement to the proposal from FFA for the WCPFC to hold a two-day workshop to discuss high-seas limits and a framework for allocating those limits, agreement could not be reached on the terms of reference for a workshop. This highlighted how difficult it is going to be reach agreement on allocation within the Commission, especially since allocation decisions can only be taken by consensus. In the end, WCPFC16 agreed to extend the next annual meeting by two days so that time could be devoted to this issue.
Transhipment – slow progress in the intercessional working group
The Transhipment Intersessional Working Group (IWG), co-chaired by RMI and US, made some good progress, but further work remains to finalise the scope of work for a study to identify weaknesses in the existing measure.
A small number of fishing nations remained concerned about the information that would be made available to conduct the study, and this has unfortunately delayed the process. The IWG will continue its work electronically, with the aim of finalising the scope of work as soon as possible.
Mobulid rays conservation and management measure – new measure adopted
FFA members proposed the draft conservation and management measure (CMM) for mobulid rays (such as manta rays), and this was adopted by the Commission following constructive engagement by Commission members. The measure will come into effect in 2021, to allow Commission members time to promulgate the measure with their fishing industries.
Consolidated sharks CMM
After two years of lengthy negotiations, chaired by Japan, a comprehensive measure on sharks was finally agreed. The new measure rationalises and streamlines reporting that was previously spread across a number of different CMMs. There was also some strengthening of the standards around requirements that fins remain naturally attached to shark carcasses with simplification of alternative measures to ensure that they can be monitored and enforced.
PORT MORESBY – The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) took a major step in helping to protect “threatened” manta and other mobula rays on the final day of its annual meeting on Wednesday.
It adopted a resolution that requires fishers to immediately release any manta rays caught accidentally as “bycatch”.
An international fisheries officer of Pew Charitable Trusts, Glen Holmes, said the increased protection was one of the positive outcomes of the WCPFC meeting, which was held in Port Moresby.
Mr Holmes said the action is considered a “big win” from the commission meeting.
“WCPFC agreed to increase protections for threatened manta and mobula rays by banning purse-seine and longline vessels from keeping any caught in their nets and hooks. This is a positive step and helps remove the incentive for fishers to capture and keep these imperilled species,” Mr Holmes said.
Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) members were the proponents of the proposal for a new measure to prevent targeted fishing and retention of mobulid rays, and to promote their safe release, when they are caught in WCPFC convention area fisheries.
FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said that the protection of rays is one of the “excellent” outcomes of the WCPFC meeting.
To many island nations such as Palau and FSM, manta-ray watching is a big tourism draw. There is also global plea to protect rays, which not only get tangled in nets and fishing lines but are also targeted for their meat and gill plates.
Under the measure, purse seiners are required to release rays while they are still swimming freely, with rays that are too large to be lifted safely by hand to be brailed out of the net and released using a purpose-built large-mesh cargo net, or canvas sling or similar device.
Purse seiners and longliners are also banned from dragging, carrying, lifting or pulling a ray by its “cephalic lobes” or tail or by inserting hooks or hands.
Bubba Cook, the head of WWF’s delegation to the WCPFC16, said WWF was happy to see that the manta rays measure move forward.
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission has moved to further safeguard seabirds from becoming tuna bycatch.
Last year, it adopted the Seabird Conservation and Management Measure.
Now the commission, which is holding its annual meeting in Port Moresby, is releasing guidelines on the safe handling and release of seabirds.
Conservation organisation WWF said tuna longline fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific were one of the greatest threats to seabirds, particularly albatrosses and petrels.
While the commission has had a measure to protect seabirds since 2006, it is estimated up to 19,000 continue to be caught annually.
The measure is aimed at ensuring that seabirds captured alive are released alive. When safe handling procedures are implemented, seabirds have higher chances of survival.
WWF’s Bubba Cook said it was pleased that the Commission had taken steps to implement the voluntary guidelines.
“[However,] we believe that they should be mandatory and subject to clear monitoring and compliance review,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Forum Fisheries Agency is confident there will be progress on its priority issues on the last day of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in Port Moresby.
The FFA’s key goal is to have the Tuna Commission adopt its climate change resolution, which calls for improved conservation and management practices and the use of more efficient and cleaner operating systems.
The FFA’s director general, Manu Tupou-Roosen, said of the big emitters and other member countries from outside the Pacific: “They have been consulted here by our members and have been supportive of this resolution.”
Short-tailed albatross with chicks … one of many species of albatross that face extinction, partly from getting hooked on fishing lines when following fishing vessels. Photo by Jlfutari at Wikipedia (English language version) [CC BY-SA 3.0].
PORT MORESBY, 10 December 2019 – The Western and Central Pacific Commission (WCPFC) on Monday adopted safe handling guidelines for seabirds, a measure that will help protect seabirds from dying when they are accidentally caught during fishing.
The Seabird Conservation and Management Measure that was adopted in 2018 (CMM 2018-03) was further supported with the Tuna Commission adopting supplementary non-binding guidelines for the safe handling and release of seabirds caught during fishing (known as bycatch).
According to WWF, bycatch in tuna longline fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) is one of the greatest threats to seabirds, particularly to albatrosses and petrels.
Although there is has been a conservation and management measure for seabirds since 2006, it is estimated that between 13,000 and 19,000 seabirds continue to be caught a year.
The guidelines received unanimous support from member and non-member states attending the 16th annual WCPFC meeting in Port Moresby.
The head of the New Zealand delegation to WCPFC16, Ms Heather Ward, told Pacific reporters here that the protection of seabirds is a priority for NZ, given the diversity of seabirds, particularly albatross and petrel species, around New Zealand in the area south of 25°S.
“New Zealand has the highest global diversity of albatross and petrel species in the world, with several species assessed as being at high or very high risk from commercial fisheries bycatch,” Ms Ward said.
“This is why the protection of seabirds is of great importance to New Zealand.”
She thanked the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) for its support in the adoption of the measure.
The measure is aimed at meeting the requirements of paragraph 11 of CMM 2018-03: to ensure that seabirds captured alive are released alive. When safe handling procedures are implemented, seabirds are more likely to survive.
Ms Ward said the advice has been tailored for the crews of fishing vessel and is available free in multiple languages. The guidelines are simple to follow, and the materials required to safely release seabirds (i.e. a towel or blanket, pliers, net, a box or bin, and gloves) are likely to be available on most longline vessels.
“We hope it will be possible for the WCPFC to adopt these guidelines under Agenda Item 8 as a further step towards the protection of vulnerable seabirds affected by longline fishing,” Ms Ward said.
WWF’s head of delegation to the WCPFC16, Mr Bubba Cook, noted in a media release that the adoption of the guidelines on how to remove hooks from seabirds, developed by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), would lead to less harm to seabirds, especially at the southern end of the WCPO region across all WCPFC longline and other hook fisheries.
“While we are pleased that the WCPFC has taken the important step to implement these voluntary guidelines, we believe that they should be mandatory and subject to clear monitoring and compliance review,” he said.
This message was further enforced by the executive secretary of ACAP, Dr Christine Bogle, who noted that now that the measure is in place, the challenge will be to ensure compliance. ACAP has presented an observer statement to WCPFC16 (WCPFC16–2019–OP08).
“Arguably, the single most important action to reduce bycatch is to increase compliance in the proper use of existing seabird bycatch regulations, such as this CMM 2018-03,” Dr Bogle said.
Oceanic whitetip shark … the species is threatened with extinction. Photo by Johan Lantz, CC BY-SA 3.0.
PORT MORESBY, 10 December 2019 – Fishing nations must adopt a suite of measures to reduce deaths of oceanic whitetip sharks, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Pew is one of a host of countries and organisations attending the most important fishing talks of the year, the 16th annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
Fishing gear such as wire leaders and shark lines must be banned, safe-handling techniques used to return snared sharks to the wild must be improved, and coverage of independent observers tasked with data collection must be increased, PEW says.
The 2019 stock assessment commissioned by the WCPFC, a multi-national regulatory body, indicates that oceanic whitetip sharks are in peril and will become extinct if overfishing continues.
The WCPFC is holding its week-long annual session in Port Moresby Papua New Guinea until 11 December.
Earlier this year, the Scientific Committee of the WCPFC, at its meeting SC15, recommended actions to lessen the numbers of sharks that are caught, and to improve safe handling and release practices.
“Prohibiting the use of wire leaders and shark lines would cut fishing-related mortality,” Pew said in a statement.
“Better safe-handling techniques, such as cutting the trailing gear as close to the hook as possible and keeping the shark in the water alongside the vessel, are also needed to further reduce mortality.”
The latest science showed that the population of oceanic whitetips has declined by around 95%, according to environmental organisation WWF.
The analysis commissioned by WCPFCC “concluded that oceanic whitetips would go extinct in this vast expanse of the Pacific in the long-term at the current levels of fishing”.
The leader of Oceans section of WWF International, John Tanzer, said, “It is unbelievable that a species that could be counted in the millions in the past is now facing extinction in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, an area covering almost 20% of the Earth’s surface.
“Urgent action is required to start rebuilding the oceanic whitetip population and to ensure that no other open ocean shark or ray ends up in such a disastrous position in the first place.”
Meanwhile, Indonesia has proposed a measure to improve data collection for sharks as bycatch in tuna fisheries.
The proposal notes that the commission needs to improve:
data collection on annual national catches estimate, to include catch estimate of sharks by gear and by species
training in shark identification for enumerators
the providing of shark identification cards to enumerators
data collection from port sampling data so as to include bycatch landed at port, including bycatch of key shark species
the implementation of fishing log books on shark-catch data, and the collection of observer data that includes released and discarded catches
the involvement of surveillance officers in monitoring catches at sea.
The Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager at WWF, Bubba Cook, said he is optimistic that with several members of the Tuna Commission pushing for comprehensive shark-management measures, there is indication that a policy will be put in place in this year’s fisheries meeting.
Tropical tuna are one of the few wild animals we still hunt in large numbers, but finding them in the vast Pacific ocean can be tremendously difficult. However, fishers have long known that tuna are attracted to, and will aggregate around, floating objects such as logs.
In the past, people used bamboo rafts to attract tuna, fishing them while they were gathered underneath. Today, the modern equivalent – called fish aggregating devices, or FADs – usually contain high-tech equipment that tell fishers where they are and how many fish have accumulated nearby.
It’s estimated that between 30,000 and 65,000 man-made FADs are deployed annually and drift through the Western and Central Pacific Ocean to be fished on by industrial fishers. Pacific island countries are reporting a growing number of FADs washing up on their beaches, damaging coral reefs and potentially altering the distribution of tuna.
Our research in two papers, one of which was published today in Scientific Reports, looks for the first time at where ocean currents take these FADs and where they wash up on coastlines in the Pacific.
Attracting fish and funds
We do not fully understand why some fish and other marine creatures aggregate around floating objects, but they are a source of attraction for many species. FADs are commonly made of a raft with 30-80m of old ropes or nets hanging below. Modern FADs are attached to high-tech buoys with solar-powered electronics.
The buoys record a FAD’s position as it drifts slowly across the Pacific, scanning the water below to measure tuna numbers with echo-sounders and transmitting this valuable information to fishing vessels by satellite.
Throughout their lifetimes FADs may be exchanged between vessels, recovered and redeployed, or fished and simply left to drift with their buoy to further aggregate tuna. Fishers may then abandon them and remotely deactivate the buoys’ satellite transmission when the FAD leaves the fishing area.
Fishing licence fees can provide up to 98% of government revenue for some Pacific Island countries and territories. These countries balance the need to sustainably manage and harvest one of the only renewable resources they have, while often having a limited capacity to fish at an industrial scale themselves.
FADs help stabilise catch rates and make fishing fleets more profitable, which in turn generate revenue for these nations.
The abandonment or loss of FADs adds to the growing mass of marine debris floating in the ocean, and they increasingly damage coral as they are dragged and get caught on reefs.
Perhaps most importantly, we don’t know how the distribution of FADs affects fishing effort in the region. Given that each fleet and fishing company has their own strategy for using FADs, understanding how the total number of FADs drifting in one area increases the catch of tuna is crucial for sustainably managing these valuable species.
Where do FADs end up?
Our research, published in Environmental Research Communications and Scientific Reports, used a regional FAD tracking program and fishing data submitted by Pacific countries, in combination with numerical ocean models and simulations of virtual FADs, to work out how FADs travel on ocean currents during and after their use.
In general, FADs are first deployed by fishers in the eastern and central Pacific. They then drift west with the prevailing currents into the core industrial tropical tuna fishing zones along the equator.
We found equatorial countries such as Kiribati have a high number of FADs moving through their waters, with a significant amount washing up on their shores. Our research showed these high numbers are primarily due to the locations in which FADs are deployed by fishing companies.
In contrast, Tuvalu, which is situated on the edge of the equatorial current divergence zone, also sees a high density of FADs and beaching. But this appears to be an area that generally aggregates FADs regardless of where they are deployed.
Unsurprisingly, many FADs end up beaching in countries at the western edge of the core fishing grounds, having drifted from different areas of the Pacific as far away as Ecuador. This concentration in the west means reefs along the edge of the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea are particularly vulnerable, with currents apparently forcing FADs towards these coasts more than other countries in the region.
Overall, our studies estimate that between 1,500 and 2,200 FADs drifting through the Western and Central Pacific Ocean wash up on beaches each year. This is likely to be an underestimate, as the tracking devices on many FADs are remotely deactivated as they leave fishing zones.
Using computer simulations, we also found that a significant number of FADs are deployed in the eastern Pacific Ocean, left to drift so they have time to aggregate tuna, and subsequently fished on in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. This complicates matters as the eastern Pacific is managed by an entirely different fishery Commission with its own set of fisheries management strategies and programmes.
Growing human populations and climate change are increasing pressure on small island nations. FAD fishing is very important to their economic and food security, allowing access to the wealth of the ocean’s abundance.
We need to safeguard these resources, with effective management around the number and location of FAD deployments, more research on their impact on tuna and bycatch populations, the use of biodegradable FADs, or effective recovery programs to remove old FADs from the ocean at the end of their slow journeys across the Pacific.
An adult shortfin mako shark entangled in fishing rope. Photograph: Daniel Cartamil/PA
Researchers call for urgent action to protect large species in international waters
Australian Associated Press, The Guardian – 25 July 2019
The world’s shark populations are at increasing risk
of becoming bycatch of international fishing fleets, which harvest them in open
oceans where no legal protections exist, Australian researchers have said.
Rob Harcourt, from Macquarie University, said large sharks were more vulnerable
to longline fishing and called for urgent action to protect them by
implementing management strategies on the high seas.
Harcourt joined colleagues from
Australia and 25 other countries to collect and collate data from nearly 2,000
sharks tracked using satellite transmitter tags.
AS Pacific nations gathered at Waikiki to talk about fisheries conservation methods last week, Japanese fishermen were charged with trafficking shark fins in and out of Hawaii.
Sharks have in the past been targeted by long-line fishing fleets in the Western and Central Pacific due to their high value in the Asian market.
But a crackdown by regional governments through implementation of Commission Management Measures of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (CMMs) in the last 10 years have seen a reduction in shark finning.
In Honolulu Harbour the Kyoshin Maru No 20 was seized with 96 shark fins on board and its Captain, Hiroyuki Kasagami, Fishing Master, Toshiyuki Komatsu and Chief Engineer, Hiroshi Chiba, were charged with 11 counts related to trafficking shark fin.
The fishing boat is owned by Hamada Sulsan and operated by JF Zengyoren, a Japanese cooperative.
Each of the officers faces personal fines of up to $USD2.7million and jail terms of five to 20 years.
As the men headed on pre-trial release, another push was being made at the Tuna Commission (WCPFC) for an agreement on a comprehensive shark management measure. There are already a number of CMMs relating to sharks and the intention is to consolidate these in to a single measure.
Sharks are usually an incidental catch in the tuna industry but there are specific rules against targeting the species which can happen by deliberately setting hooks from longliners at certain depths.
But finning sharks is controlled and restricted under the licence agreements of fishing boats operating the WCPFC waters.
Around 100 million sharks died in 2000 as a result of fishing, according to a 2013 study by Social Development Direct, a UK based research group.
A 2015 study showed that deep-sea longline fishing vessels and coastal trawlers had the largest total of shark and ray by-catch.
There are no exact figures for shark deaths in the Pacific, but outgoing WCPFC Chairperson, Rhea Moss-Christian, told reporters Saturday that a shark management measure would be a priority this year.
Any shark management measure will need WCPFC members, cooperating non-Members and participating territories to prohibit the removal of shark fins at sea.
Associated with the measure will be a ban on trans-shipment, on-board retention of sharks and the landing of shark fins.
Longline boats deploy miles of baited hooks that accidentally snare sharks, among other unintended targets.
Within the FFA, strict Port State Measures offer a raft of compliance checks local authorities can make on fishing vessels according to the perceived threat posed by the boat.
This is another tool available within the Pacific to ensure the reduction of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fisheries, including catching and finning of sharks.
There is a fear, however, that some fleets are fishing for sharks on the high seas and transshipping fins to huge carrier ships which are involved in other illegal activities.
The presence of these large ocean-going carriers has caused Pacific countries to call for on-board observers on the vessels to report illegal activities.
Federated States of Micronesia National Oceanic resource Management Authority Executive Director, Eugene Pangelinan, said electronic monitoring was critical to conservation and management on the high seas.
“Electronic monitoring is more about supplementing and improving the compliance of longliners that are operating in the Exclusive Economic Zone or High Seas where current commission coverage is five per cent observer coverage,” Pangelinan said.
“We think the electronic monitoring offers an alternative – not to human observers – but more to increase the validation and compliance mechanism.
“It also offers an opportunity to improve our data collection and improvement in statistics gathering for other species of special interest such as sea turtles, non-target species sharks and so forth.
“I think electronic monitoring offers much more better eyes whereas observers are not capable of being physically accommodated on long-liners.”
Many of the fisheries with the largest by-catch of cartilaginous species like sharks and rays operate over vast areas of ocean and often in international waters, where fishing rules are weaker.
The measure before WCPFC15 would encourage research to identify ways to make fishing gear more selective and provide relevant information to the WCPFC Scientific Committee.
The WCPFC has the mandate to conserve and manage nearly 60 per cent of the global tuna catch, equivalent to 2.9 million tons of tuna, valued at over $5 billion.
It is also responsible for managing and conserving other migratory fish such as sharks and manta rays.
Conservation groups at the WCPFC have called for be a firm commitment, to conduct assessments on shark stocks.
Dave Gershman of PEW Charitable Trust said sharks were important to the ecosystem and as the top predators they kept the balance in the oceans.
“PEW is keen to see action for sharks before their numbers crash,” Gershman said.
“Negotiations for new rules on sharks have to take into account the widely differing interests of fishing nations and more conservation-minded resource-owning nations.”
While the Pacific negotiates the complexities of shark conservation measures behind closed doors, the US authorities have signalled that they will take no nonsense from fleets which target shark fins.
And in Honolulu Harbour there is one crew which has found out to its cost that with supportive laws, a dead shark can have a terrible bite.