Pacific solidarity needed to get climate change embedded in Tropical Tuna Measure

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Honiara – As discussions on a new Tropical Tuna Measure (TTM) loom, Pacific island countries need to push more to get the international community to consider the impacts of climate change on the regional tuna fishery. It needs to take account of both high seas and in-zone allocations so that the measure can be more beneficial to the region.

Climate change has been come to be seen as one of the building blocks of the TTM, based on advice from the Scientific Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) that it is likely to result in increasing fish migration between zones to the east and the high seas. 

Therefore, it is up to the members of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) member countries to lead the development of new measure – and it is apparent that there will be a lot of push and pull factors coming from some developed countries.

The TTM, conservation and management measure 2018-01, is one of the most important rules governing tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

In a media conference to wrap up the 17th Tuna Commission meeting last December, the Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC), Mr Eugene Pangelinan, said, “As we move towards developing a new Tropical Tuna Measure or successor, our experiences in the past will dictate our behaviour in the future.

“The outcomes of what will be a Tropical Tuna Measure for 2022 onwards will be based on a lot of factors. I’m concerned that issues like climate change just might fall down through the cracks as we negotiate that Tropical Tuna Measure.”

A challenge for Pacific small island developing states

According to Mr Pangelinan, the discussions on pushing for the effects of climate change on the tuna fisheries to be part of the TTM was going to be a challenge for the small island developing states (SIDS) of the Pacific.

This is due to the fact that the developed countries will also push for their own priorities to be considered. 

“The way we see it, as we prepare for this process in 2021, I think some developed CCMs are starting to take a very strong position on their priorities, such as profits and profits for their vessels and ensuring that their vessels have a place in this fishery to retain what has been very beneficial to them,” Mr Pangelinan said. (CCMs are the members, cooperating non-members and participating territories that make up the WCPFC.)

The FFC chair said FFA had a “totally different” view, and anticipated that these kinds of issues might become watered down as people would be more focused on what members were trying to achieve through the objectives that would be agreed on in early 2021.

“So, it will be quite a challenge to bring in elements of climate change, crew and labour standards, and so forth,” Mr Pangelinan said. 

Besides these areas of most concern, he said that considering the impacts of COVID-19 in the discussions, “as we start carving out or drafting new measures, it’s going to be very difficult. I will say, we’re going to just be really ready and prepared as we have these discussions, and keep those in the back of our minds that they’re equally important to our people.”

“It is also important to also have leadership directives, from our highest levels of government that these are priorities as well,” Mr Pangelinan said.

Climate negotiations as everybody’s business

The FFA Director-General, Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen, told regional journalists after WCPFC17 that the fight for getting what’s beneficial to the Pacific island countries out of the new Tropical Tuna Measure was “everybody’s business” and could not be done by the FFA alone.

Dr Tupou-Roosen said it was a positive that Pacific leaders and ministers had highlighted the importance of climate change as the single greatest threat to their people. 

“Whilst we’re faced with the immediate challenge and impacts of COVID-19 staying very much in front, on top of mind is what we do in the climate change space,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.

“And so we will see that start to play out as well, in the discussions around the Tropical Tuna Measure, in terms of the high seas allocation, given the scientists telling us that there will be substantial amount of fish within our waters that will migrate to the high seas, due to climate change.

“This will be part of the conversation next year [2021] in that context.” 

Four maps showing movement of two species of tuna, skipjack and yellowfin, from western Pacific Ocean eastwards as a result of changes in the ocean with climate change. Source Pacific Community policy brief 2019
Projected distributions of skipjack and yellowfin tuna biomass in the Pacific Ocean in 2005, and in 2050 under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario. Source: SPC.

She said climate change was also linked to concerns about maritime boundaries. Discussion about this issue needed the support of all members and the regional community.

“Overall, climate change is a piece of work that cannot be done alone by the FFA and not just the secretariat and the members,” she said. 

“But this is a work that needs to be done with our partners within the regional architecture we have the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme as a lead in environmental issues, and as the lead in our preparation before the COP meeting at the end of 2021, and how we ensure that there are entry points into that conversation on our fisheries matters.

“Because we all recognise that we are not the cause of these issues related to climate change and global warming: it is the large gas emitters. The conversation is not happening in our in our fishery space.”.

Dr Tupou-Roosen said that the island states cooperating as a region in debates was important “to ensure that we can influence the debate, ensure that it has flow-on positive benefits and fight for our fisheries work.”

Mechanisms such as compensation could be used to the region’s advantage in the fishing space. However, Dr Tupou-Roosen hoped that the talks would be very successful once the upcoming COP meeting was held face to face.

FFA prioritises advancement of observer and crew “safety culture”

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HONIARA – While national and regional observer vessel placements remain suspended until at least 15 February, Pacific fisheries organisations are focused on ensuring that working conditions on fishing vessels are made safer for both observers and crew before the observer program resumes.

The Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) continues to progress suspension of the observer program, as a priority of the Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC).

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) initially suspended the observer program on 8 April 2020, to protect the health of observers working on purse-seine vessels as COVID-19 spread rapidly worldwide. The suspension has been extended several times.

Heading into the recent 17th WCPFC meeting, which was held by web link, one of the key priorities of FFA and its members was improving the safety of crew and observers.

The FFA members noted that it was simply unacceptable that observers potentially continued to face risks at sea and to suffer persecution, serious injuries and even death in the course of their work, and that human rights abuses were suffered by crew working on fishing vessels operating in the Pacific region.

In a submission to the WCPFC before the Tuna Commission meeting, FFC Chair Mr Eugene Pangelinan said the members of the FFA were “committed to addressing these issues and are taking measures to improve standards in relation to fishing within our waters, and to create a ‘safety culture’ around the role of observers.

“It is imperative that the commission collectively commits to implement such standards on the high seas. We look forward to working with CCMs and with committed partner organisations to advance this work in the commission as a matter of priority over the coming year,” Mr Pangelinan said. (CCMs are the members, cooperating non-members and participating territories that make up the governing body of the WCPFC.)

Disappointing decision on crew and observers at WCPFC

However, speaking to Pacific journalists at the end of the 17th Tuna Commission meeting, Mr Pangelinan said the FFA members had walked away with mixed feelings about the WCPFC decision on the safety of crew and observers.

This is due to the fact that before the commission meeting, members had hoped that all CCMs would share FFA members’ belief in the level of importance of observer safety and labour standards of crew and fishing vessels operating in the WCPFC convention area.

“Regrettably, one CCM [China] had legal as well as procedural issues about this kind of a measure being put forward by Indonesia,” Mr Pangelinan said.

At the Tuna Commission meeting, Indonesia submitted a proposal regarding the adoption of a conservation and management measure (CMM) on labour standards for crew of fishing vessels. (A resolution on labour standards exists, but resolutions are not binding and so not enforceable. It is mandatory to follow the provisions of CMMs.)

In its submission, Indonesia acknowledged that fishing crews were at risk of forced work, low or no pay, and human trafficking because of communication challenges, and the absence of proper training and of authorisation of wellbeing and work benchmarks.

In submitting the proposal to the Tuna Commission, Indonesia’s Director of Fish Resources Management, Mr Trian Yunanda, wrote: “Forced work and human dealing in fisheries segments are much of the time connected to different types of wrongdoing, for example, transnational sorted out fisheries wrongdoing and corruption.

“Another labour abuse factor is the expanding worldwide interest for fish and the quick development of modern fishing fleets alongside overexploitation. Fishing operators can have a competitive benefit by crewing their vessel with under-qualified and cheap members.”

“In the spirit of responsible fisheries management, an issue of labour abuse needs to be addressed properly and regulated accordingly, including within the convention area of WCPFC, through the implementation of conservation and management measures for labour rights.”

Mr Pangelinan told the Pacific journalists that, although the proposal did not become a CMM, with FFA members’ guidance and because CCMs were so vocal about the issue in the Tuna Commission meeting, they were able to carve out a hybrid intersessional working group (IWG) that would advance the work that Indonesia is doing.

“New Zealand will be co-chairing that process of working to address the concerns of that one CCM, in relation to whether the commission has a mandate to also address issues of labour and crewing standards and observer safety and so forth,” Mr Pangelinan said.

He also confirmed that the FFC was convinced that it did have that mandate.

“There are many legal instruments or legal provisions of the convention that lead us to believe that that is the case. And we will continue to work with other CCMs to make sure that, in 2021, the IWG does manage to or at least continues to work on even an independent study that specifically focused on this particular issue in the WCPFC area,” he said.

The FFA Director-General, Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen, said the intersessional process “is an important outcome for this commission, given the different views among CCMs on the mandate of the commission to deal with this subject matter.

“As the chair and our members have said in strong support for Indonesia’s draft crewing CMM in the past, in the lead-up to adoption of the Korean resolution, this is a top priority for our membership. And – we’ve said this before – it’s the right thing to do: it is the human side to our work and cannot be ignored. Work must progress on this, not just within our waters but also, importantly, within this commission on the high seas,” said Dr Tupou-Roosen.

FFC Chair Mr Eugene Pangelinan, left, and FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, right, at Sir John Guise Stadium, Port Moresby, for the 16th Tuna Commission meeting.
FFC Chair Mr Eugene Pangelinan, left, and FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, right, at Sir John Guise Stadium, Port Moresby, for the 16th Tuna Commission meeting.

Top priority to get observers back on fishing vessels

Despite the mixed reactions by members on discussion on the safety of crew and observers at the Tuna Commission meeting, getting observers back onto ships is still a top priority for the FFA and the FFC.

Mr Pangelinan told journalists: “Obviously, with over 800 observers in the Pacific, it is important that we try to put them back to work and provide for their families, and being also the eyes out on the water.”

But while COVID-19 continued to prevail in the region, “the safety of observers is of paramount importance”.

“All these additional COVID responses that we’ve had have added additional burden on the secretariat and the members in terms of compliance and reporting. And so the bit of normalcy would be something that everybody would welcome.

“Unfortunately, that’s not the case [at the moment]. And I think that, notwithstanding COVID-19 still happening throughout the region, some members were of the view that they wanted to still start the deployment, and get people back on the vessels,” Mr Pangelinan said.

“But we’re not confident yet that the commission has a robust guideline and protocol that all members must adhere to, to ensure the safety of observers as we slowly recommenced the deployment. And that’s why we called upon even other systems who have non-FFA members to show us what have they put in place that will provide us the assurances that observers will be cared for, taken care of and protected against potential contracting of the COVID-19.”

Dr Tupou-Roosen said that, in the meantime, a draft intersessional decision worked be worked on by the commission chair to be circulated by end of January or early February.

“The commission chair will work on some language that will be circulated before then to sit to determine what can be done before it [the current suspension] expires. This is something that our membership will continue to look at,” she said.

Members call for COVID-19 protocols for observers

The FFC had already established protocols and guidelines that it called best practice, ready for the day when the suspension was lifted. Most members had said that returning observers to vessels was a necessity for their vessels to continue to operate.

“But, obviously we’re just going to have to sit back and wait and see what happens,” Mr Pangelinan said.

“The commission is already starting to think ahead about how we’re going to actually do that.

Fisheries, Maritime and Ports Authority officers monitor a fishing vessel unloading under COVID-19 protocols in Apia Port, Samoa. Photo: Samoa NHQ.
Fisheries, Maritime and Ports Authority officers monitor a fishing vessel unloading under COVID-19 protocols in Apia Port, Samoa. Photo: Samoa NHQ.

FFC had called on members to share their national protocols “to see whether those match up with the kind of assurances we want for our observers – when they’re redeployed, whether they’re coming through their own ports or through some other ports – that they’re not a lower standard than what the FFA members have put together.

“We have to keep bearing their safety in mind and the safety of the populations of the countries that they’re also going through,” Mr Pangelinan said.

“The FFA is the only one that has put forward a credible COVID-19 response protocol and guideline that we would put our name on, that is probably the best practice. But we’re happy to continue to work with other members.”

He said that vessel owners and vessels wanted to see progress on preparations for the resumption of onboard observer work.

In support of the need to have all national COVID-19 protocols in hand, the FFA had asked other CCMs to share their protocols, so it could assess their standard .

“The goal is always to give our national observer programs the confidence that they can safely return their observers to vessels,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.

Success of 2021 WCPFC meeting could be hampered by ongoing travel restrictions

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The year 2020 will be remembered for the many different ways the COVID-19 pandemic dominated human lives.

COVID swaggered; blazed. Seemingly overnight, it carved a one-in-a lifetime transboundary trail through countries, races, creeds, status and belief systems. It doled out death, economic meltdowns and societal disruption while planting uncertainty in the globe-wide swathe leaving human misery festering in its wake.

Yet, dotted among the devastation are small clusters of human resistance. And isolated within some of these clusters are the rare nuggets – small pockets of people claiming victory by maintaining a semblance of pre-COVID normalcy.

One such pocket is the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) tuna fisheries managed by the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), also known as the Tuna Commission. It is a body where all 41 stakeholders develop management measures collectively and operate by consensus.

For many of the bloc of 24 Pacific island countries and territories (PICTs), victory in 2020 boiled down to two key things: committed, hardworking people; and ‘one decision’ (consensus).

Together they blunted most of COVID-19’s disruptions to the harvest and commercial activities in the region’s US$6 billion a year fisheries sector.

Due to COVID-19, Pacific fisheries ministers and national representatives met for the annual Forum Fisheries Committee meeting in August 2020 over the Zoom platform. Photo: FFA Media.

Blunted: COVID-19’s influence on Pacific fisheries

The commitment and dedicated work of Pacific fisheries officials included the efforts of their many intersectoral and international partners. Without ongoing fisheries activity, incoming revenue and an operating regulatory machinery, the sector would have been neutralised. But the sacrifices, resilience and sheer doggedness of the people involved “kept the fisheries open and active in producing the necessary catches”, according to Mr Eugene Pangelinan, Chair for the Pacific’s Forum Fisheries Committee (FFC), who spoke to journalists at a media conference during the 17th annual meeting of the Tuna Commission last month.

“That dedication ensured the markets continued to receive the supply of tuna from the Pacific to feed the world,” Mr Pangelinan said.

Officials’ work also ensured that “all key tuna stocks – the skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye and albacore – are all very healthy. So, I think that’s something we can be very proud of.”

Eugene Pangelinan, Chair, Forum Fisheries Committee, December 2020-screenshot taken during online media conference
Forum Fisheries Committee Chair Eugene Pangelinan during the post-WCPFC17 media conference, held via Zoom. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.

The WCPFC’s consensus way of operating was notable in a decision made at WCPFC17, which was held virtually from 8 to 15 December.

Of the 96 decisions made by the Commission, it was decision number 39, on the rollover of the Tropical Tuna Measure (TTM), conservation and management measure 2018-01, that was important above all others. That single decision has enabled the gains hard won in 2020 to be followed through in 2021.

More importantly, decision 39 provided an opportunity for those in charge of the tuna fisheries to maintain the current measure beyond its 10 February 2021 expiry date, while they craft a new TTM for endorsement when the Commission meets in December 2021. In the interim, the current TTM provides certainty, trust and transparency for Pacific members that its fisheries will be managed well as the Commission continues its work towards establishing harvest strategies for the four most important species.

Why the Tropical Tuna Measure mattered above all other measures

Decision 39 on rolling over the TTM reads: “The Commission agreed on a simple rollover of CMM 2018-01 for one year and accordingly adopted CMM 2020-01 Conservation and Management Measure for bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.”

At the heart of the Tuna Commission negotiations and decisions are the three tropical tuna species, skipjack, bigeye and yellowfin). The TTM is central to harvesting the species in a sustainable manner and also attempts to take into account the special requirements of the Pacific’s small island developing states (SIDS).

It does this by defining the limits for fishing in both the sovereign waters of PICTs and the high seas pockets on the WCPO by setting out effort and catch restrictions for the two principal WCPFC fisheries – the tropical purse seine fishery and the tropical longline fishery. Together, they comprise approximately 75% of the tuna caught in the WCPO, which provides 66% of all the world’s tuna. In 2019, the value of WCPO tuna value was estimated at US$5.8 billion (purse seine US$3.02 billion, longline US$1.61 billion).

When decision 39 was endorsed, it was no surprise to hear Pacific negotiators’ stress levels giving way to relief, according to Mr Stan Crothers, who represented Tokelau and shared a perspective as part of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA).

“We were quite concerned that if they [the Commission] hadn’t concurred, we would have been in the awful situation where there is no conservation and management measure in place. We certainly didn’t want to get to that point – an open slather – especially on the high seas,” Mr Crothers said.

“So, if there’s one word that describes what this means, it is ‘relief’ that we got a measure to keep things in place. And because of the COVID-19 conditions, this was a huge success.”

At the post-WCPFC17 media conference, Mr Pangelinan also paid tribute to the effort behind the scenes by Pacific members and their partners that led to the victory.

“The Forum Fisheries Agency [FFA] team as a bloc, working together with the Parties to the Nauru Agreement as a bloc, succeeded in having the TTM rolled over,” he said.

As well as securing a process for the 2021 negotiations that will include two intercessional workshops in April and June–July, they ensured the process would take into account COVID-19 impacts, and ensure a special provision to “avoid a situation in which the WCPFC had no Tropical Tuna Measure”.

Mr Pangelinan was especially satisfied with securing the special provision.

“There’s a key provision in there that I took away as being very essential,” he said. “In the event there is no agreement – that if we are unable at WCPFC18 to agree on a Tropical Tuna Measure – then we [Tuna Commission] shall commit to another roll over of current measures to ensure the fishery has a management regime in place in 2022.”

Mr Crothers was asked how the Pacific would fare if such a scenario should come to pass.

“Are we really concerned about another rollover of the Tropical Tuna Measure? No, we’re not,” he said.

“The TTM that we’re operating under is good for the fishery and really good for the PNA and therefore good for Tokelau. So, we’re actually quite relaxed about it [if there’s another rollover].”

2021 to be a “monster” year of pushing through delayed work

The new conservation and management measure needs to be well crafted and negotiated exhaustively so there is consensus when it comes before WCPFC18 in December 2021.

However, it is far from the only work to get through in 2021. Some Pacific negotiators have said the Commission has created a problem because it has rolled over other key issues from year to year.

Mr Crothers said, “If the rollover decision had been made in pre-pandemic times, we would have said, ‘That was not a very successful meeting.’ But because of COVID-19, it ended up being a huge success.

“But what it really highlighted was that, over the years, we’ve been kicking the can down the road on a whole lot of issues. And in the COVID crisis, we’ve been able to sort of bounce around and get by. But a lot of stuff has been delayed and is now building up.

“It now means 2021 is turning into a monster because we have got to renegotiate the Tropical Tuna Measure, we’ve got to negotiate an albacore measure, and then, on top of that, we’ve got to renegotiate the US treaty. Further, we have to progress the FFA longline strategy, enhance the PNA Longline Vessel Day Scheme, implement electronic reporting and electronic monitoring, and so forth.

“So the challenges for the FFA and the PNA in 2021 are huge, because the work delayed in 2020 is now pushed out to 2021.”

US Treaty signing ceremony in Nadi, Fiji, in 2016. Photo Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.
US Treaty signing ceremony in Nadi, Fiji, in 2016. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.

Face-to-face meetings likely to be further delayed

Despite hopes at the end of 2020 that international travel might resume by July, it now seems unlikely that this will be the case.

Mr Crothers said: “My biggest worry is that, if we’re not travelling in the Pacific by, at the latest, June or July, then I think we are not going to be able to get the work done to negotiate a new Tropical Tuna Measure, and therefore we may be faced with another rollover by this time [December] in 2021.”

Mr Pangelinan agreed that another rollover at WCPFC18 was a real possibility. The majority of negotiators have readily admitted that, to get such complex issues over the line, physical meetings are a must. Yet even with COVID-19 vaccination programs underway in various countries, Mr Pangelinan didn’t hold out much hope for the resumption of physical meetings soon.

“I think we must accept the fact that if things are not going to change by early 2021, we will have to just simply resort to this [Zoom] platform to try and progress these issues as much as possible,” he said.

The Director-General of FFA, Dr Manumatavai Tupou-Roosen, said FFA would focus on improving preparations and briefings for its members using the virtual platforms, and also on building even closer coordination with partners and stakeholders.

“Everybody’s hopeful that we could start some physical engagements because we have pushed a lot of work – that’s not understating it – a lot of work to 2021,” Dr Tupou-Roosen told Pacific journalists at the WCPFC17 media conference.

“It will require us to be very organised in getting in touch virtually as FFA members and also with our partners in advance of any set dates for WCPFC workshops leading up to the WCPFC18 in December 2021.

“And what has really shone through during the present challenge created by COVID is the strength, resilience, adaptability and innovation of our Pacific people. And being led by their continued commitment to cooperation.”

Pacific island states disadvantaged by virtual meetings

For the 2021 work, Pacific members are still hoping that a return to physical meetings will come to pass this year. That is because, as has been confirmed in 2020, virtual platforms dilute their positions and collective strength dramatically.

According to Mr Crothers, there are two areas that highlight the Pacific’s concerns: technology infrastructure, and platform to agree on collective action.

“It is particularly difficult to negotiate complex measures, using this [Zoom]. It has compounded the problems for SIDS on two levels,” he said.

“The quality of their internet connection and so forth is not great. We had people dropping in and out while meeting, so there’s that the technological infrastructure problem. It means that the SIDS’ ability to participate is constrained.

“If they can’t participate, their interests are not reflected and therefore it’s quite hard to get a consensus.”

Secondly, the strength of the FFA and the PNA is in collective action. This has come to the fore in recent meetings of the Commission. This was illustrated by the passage of the climate change resolution at WCPFC16.

“We are a whole lot of little guys and we’re up against the heavyweights of the EU, US, China and Japan. The only way we can compete with them is if we all band together as a collective,” Mr Crothers said.

“We can do that best when we meet physically – to negotiate our collective positions and settle on our game plan.”

It is never an easy task, as every Pacific country and territory has its own views and unique interests and needs.

“So getting a consensus amongst Pacific countries is a challenge. But once we have it, that’s when we can compete against the big guys,” he said.

“With COVID in the mix, it’s been difficult to get the FFA positions sorted, build a consensus and get our game plan sorted. So, once again, this situation means it’s been a difficult time for us.”

The clear advantage of physical meetings … Pacific negotiators revisit their strategy on the climate change resolution during one of the breaks at the 2019 Tuna Commission in Port Moresby, PNG. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians.

2021 expected to be difficult – but doable

Difficult is still doable: the Pacific fisheries sector has shown that in 2020.

And even though there is a lot of uncertainty about what may or may not be achieved in 2021, the largest bloc at the Tuna Commission took time out to celebrate and reflect on the WCPFC17 success, and especially the continuation of the TTM.

On reflection, there was time to evaluate several disappointments. The biggest one for the Pacific was the Compliance Monitoring Scheme.

“The compliance monitoring report was probably the biggest disappointment of the 2020 meeting for us,” said Mr Pangelinan, referring to a Commission member that was able to manipulate the system to continue to escape being held accountable for not complying or adhering to its limits on the high seas.

“It is a very unfortunate one because, for us, we are now wondering about the integrity of the entire Compliance Monitoring Scheme as a package of measures that look at how members meet their obligations,” said Mr Pangelinan.

Getting policy results will be a big challenge

As a result of the lack of action by the Tuna Commission, “we’re going to have to look very carefully, think very hard, about any future Tropical Tuna Measure and how those elements of limits or even obligations themselves are going to be interpreted.

“I would say this one is the big fish that got away. We should have had an assessment but we did not successfully do that.”

He said that the use of virtual platforms as the form of communications and negotiations was a definitely a contributing factor.

“I would say that, if this was not done through this virtual platform, I think the outcome would have been totally different,” Mr Pangelinan said.

Several issues significant to the Pacific were pared right back at WCPFC17, and some were not even discussed: the climate change resolution; harvest strategies; maritime boundaries; high-seas allocation, and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

“Those particular issues may become watered down as people will be more focused on what we are trying to achieve through the objectives we will be agreeing to in the early parts of 2021,” Mr Pangelinan said.

“It will be quite a challenge to bring in elements of crew and labour standards, COVID-19, climate change, and so forth, into these discussions as we start carving out a new measure, so it’s going to be very difficult, I will say.

“We will have to be really ready and prepared so that, as we have these discussions, we keep those in the back of our minds that they’re equally important to our people. We also have leadership directives from our highest levels of government, that those are priorities as well.”

In March, a study on IUU fishing, which revisits a 2016 report, on IUU will be tabled. That should help provide some oxygen for the work on IUU mitigation going into 2022.

Another major 2021 event will be the La Niña weather pattern. It is forecasted to bring a boon for fisheries in the west of the region.

Mr Crothers said, “We’re likely to see good catches in the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Nauru and so forth, and not so good conditions in Tokelau, Kiribati and Tuvalu.”

It is also likely that for 2021 and 2022, and beyond, the waters of Pacific small island states and territories will remain the lucrative, as the three commercially important tropical tuna, plus albacore tuna, have been confirmed by scientists as remaining in a healthy state. This knowledge reassures officials that fisheries revenue, employment, private sector opportunities and developmental progress for many PICTs are inoculated against the more virulent assaults of COVID-19.

Tokelau, where fisheries provide about 85% of the territory’s entire domestic GDP, is one of the lucky few: the benefits it gains from its fisheries are almost immune to COVID-19. This is also the case for a number of other WCPO states. But that immunity has come about entirely through the hard work of its national fisheries officials, as well as their regional and international network of partners, among them FFA and PNA members.

“The TTM we’re operating under now is good for the fishery, it’s really good for the PNA, and it’s good for Tokelau,” said Mr Crothers.

“If a rollover happened again into 2022, so be it.”

But wouldn’t it be great if travel to fisheries meetings is allowed to take place by July 2021?

Nukunou, Tokelau. Photo Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians/Taupulega Nukunonu.
Nukunonu, Tokelau, is one of the few COVID-free pockets in the world. Photo: Fatu Tauafiafi/Pacific Guardians/Taupulega Nukunonu.

WCPFC17 members agree on way to negotiate new Tropical Tuna Measure in 2021

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A process for negotiating a new Tropical Tuna Measure has been agreed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), paving the way for adoption at the end of next year.

At this year’s annual WCPFC meeting, which finished yesterday, members agreed to roll over the current conservation and management measure, CMM 2018-01, to extend it for another year. 

This means the commission has avoided the problem that its counterpart in the eastern Pacific now has, after it failed to find consensus on the rollover of its equivalent measure and is left with no way of managing fishing for bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tuna.

CMM 2018-01 was due to expire in February.

The process the WCPFC17 has agreed to was proposed by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). It will be conducted online.

The Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee, Mr Eugene Pangelinan, said in a media conference today that work would need to start almost immediately, because negotiations were more difficult online.

“We have a lot of work to do so that by next December we have all the building blocks read for WCPFC to make a decision, not just on the Tropical Tuna Measure, but also on South Pacific albacore, crewing conditions, and observers,” Mr Pangelinan said.

The WCPFC will convene three workshops to develop the replacement measure. The first one will be in April. Development work will continue between workshops.

The conservation and management measure will work towards the adoption of harvest strategies, as laid out in another rule, CMM 2014-06. The harvest strategy would operate hand-in-hand with the Tropical Tuna Measure and conservation and management measures for other species. Harvest strategies are used to manage commercially important species so they remain biologically sustainable while maximising profits from the fisheries.

WCPFC expected that some, and perhaps all, of the workshops would be held virtually. 

Virtual meetings have proven to be unsatisfactory when negotiating details of important decisions. To minimise the problems with this format, the agreement of the process stated that was “essential” that those taking part in developing the next CMM participate cooperatively in sessions between workshops. 

Mr Pangelinan said, “There have been a lot of lessons learned this year. One of the bad things about using this platform is the lack of interpersonal engagement. This can influence outcomes,.”

The process for negotiating the Tropical Tuna Measure needed to include ways of maintaining appropriate discussion and negotiation.

All proposals would have to be put in writing and shared. They would also have to include an assessment of the impact on small island developing states (SIDS), in line with CMM 2013-06

This CMM is to ensure the SIDS can participate on an equal footing with wealthier members of WCPFC, and that they do not have to bear unreasonable costs or workload.

One of these is ensuring that SIDS members can participate fully.

The Director-General of FFA, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, said in the media conference today, “Our members are very clear about this. Capacity building to be able to work on this virtual platform is as important as being able to sit at the meetings.”

For more information from the Forum Fisheries Agency on WCPFC17, contact Hugh Walton, ph. +677 740 2428, email

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

WCPFC to consider rollover of Tropical Tuna Measure in upcoming virtual meeting

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Republished from SeafoodSource, 4 December 2020

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) will hold its regular annual session from 7 to 15 December, with the renewal of the tropical tuna measure on bigeye, skipjack, and yellowfin billed as the main topic up for discussion.  

The meeting, WCPFC17, has been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced the commission to meet virtually, according to WCPFC Executive Director Feleti Teo.

“Due to the constraints of the Zoom online meeting platform, the agenda of the WCPFC17 has been substantially pared back, to focus principally on essential issues that the commission is required to consider and take decision [on] in 2020 to ensure the continuity of the work of the commission and its secretariat in 2021 and onward years,” Mr Teo said.

The conservation and management of the three tropical tuna species – bigeye, skipjack, and yellowfin – will be a focus of the meeting. The tropical tuna measure [CMM 2018-01] applicable to these species, which has been in place for three years and regulates tuna catch in the region, is set to expire after 10 February 2021. It ensures skipjack, bigeye, and yellowfin tuna stocks are maintained at recent average levels and capable of producing maximum sustainable yield.

According to the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the value of the provisional total tuna catch in 2018 was AU$8.9 billion (US$6 billion, €5.4 billion) – marginally higher than it was in 2017, and the highest seen since 2013. 

In its key priorities paper submitted to WCPFC ahead of the meeting, FFA proposed a continuation of the existing measure, given the constraints of negotiating via the online platform.

“FFA members therefore propose the commission facilitates a rollover of the measure to ensure this critical CMM does not lapse and the current objectives for yellowfin and bigeye tuna are maintained until such time as target reference point can be agreed following the appropriate level of discussion. We note this approach to deferring substantive negotiations is consistent with that taken by other RFMOs this year, and will be familiar to WCPFC [members] who are also members of those organisations,” Forum Fisheries Committee Chair Eugene Pangelinan said in the paper.

FFA acknowledged that COVID-19 has created obstacles to progressing on key commission issues during 2020, “in particular, the difficulties many members face with online connectivity and participation in discussions, which may have significant outcomes for their national interests”.

Glen Holmes, who serves as an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts international fisheries program, said the dominant topic of discussion in the upcoming meeting would be the tropical tuna measure.

“Even though there is a general desire to do as little negotiation [as] possible this year, they have to deal with the tuna measure,” Mr Holmes said.

Holmes said the most appropriate thing for WCPFC members to do was roll over the measure for another 12 months, and maintain the current guidelines until more substantive discussions could be had among the delegates.

In Pew’s position paper submitted to WCPFC, the NGO called for management of the three tuna stocks, in an effort to ensure uninterrupted continuation. It added that the management of these tuna should be supported by the goal of implementing fully specified harvest strategies, including maintaining bigeye and yellowfin populations at or above 2012–2015 levels until target reference points are adopted, and without increasing the risk of breaching the limit reference point.

Mr Holmes said it was a huge missed opportunity for the commission not to have discussed issues of harvest management strategies in last year’s meeting. It was crucial that the commission create a Science–Management Dialogue Working Group, he added, to accelerate development of harvest strategies. 

Mr Holmes said one thing positive about the COVID-19 travel restrictions is that there are opportunities to form the working group.

Pew is also urging WCPFC to improve oversight of fishing activities. The NGO said that, with the temporary removal of fishery observers from vessels due to the pandemic, the commission should work to finalise recommendations for electronic monitoring on vessels as a cost-effective way to improve data collection and augment human observer coverage.

Mr Teo said the WCPFC17 would also cover the limits and allocation for the high-seas purse-seine fishery and bigeye longline fishery.

For more information from the Forum Fisheries Agency on WCPFC17, contact Hugh Walton, ph. +677 740 2428, email