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.
On 18 June 2018 the Council adopted a regulation setting out revised rules on management, conservation and control measures applicable in the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation Convention Area (SPRFMO).
The aim of the new rules is to make sure that the conservation and management measures adopted by the SPRFMO are fully transposed into EU law and effectively implemented. Among other things, the regulation incorporates into EU legislation the decisions taken at the sixth meeting of the SPRFMO Commission (COMM6) in Lima, Peru, from 30 January to 3 February 2018.
The SPRFMO is an inter-governmental organisation that is committed to the long-term conservation and sustainable use of the fishery resources of the South Pacific Ocean. The European Union is a contracting party. Currently, the main commercial resources fished in the SPRFMO area are Jack mackerel and jumbo flying squid in the Southeast Pacific and, to a much lesser degree, deep-sea species often associated with seamounts in the Southwest Pacific.
The regulation will enter into force on the third day following that of its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union.
Mexico and Japan have already breached their bluefin fishing limit for the second year in a row, despite strict quotas, said Pew Charitable Trusts.
Pacific bluefin is worth nearly $1 billion at the final point of sale, but it has been severely depleted over the years, and now just sits at 2.6% of its historic level, the charity said.
In September 2017, countries agreed to a rebuilding plan for the species. However, “there is little room for error, and the quota overages will continue to hurt recovery”, Pew said.
A new stock assessment for Pacific bluefin will be released this summer, and it will give fishery managers a time to consider if the recovery plan is working, and how much work must still be done to rebuild the species.
But if countries continue to stretch the limits, there is little chance for success, and the species will remain in serious jeopardy, Pew said.
“Pacific bluefin tuna can’t catch a break. Mexico, one of the leading fishing nations for this severely depleted species, officially exceeded its 2018 quota just four months into the year on May 3,” said Jamie Gibbon, an officer on Pew’s global tuna conservation campaign.
“If nations are unable to enforce the rebuilding plan and show that they are honestly tackling overfishing, the idea of an ocean-wide commercial fishing moratorium may have to be revisited as the last ditch option to save the species,” Gibbon said.
But despite Pacific fishing observers being central to regional fisheries management, an advocate is frustrated at lack of action on harassment and abuse of observers.
There are ongoing complaints of abuse of observers while carrying out their work, and a number have mysteriously disappeared.
President of the Association for Professional Observers Liz Mitchell says it is unclear if the Commission plans to address these issues.
“I don’t know where you can go, where you can put pressure. They don’t have any obligation to follow the rules really. There’s no consequence…it’s just up to the individual states that need to pressured to implement laws that will be enforced. But that’s a long way off it seems.”
Member countries and territories of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) have agreed to adopt measures to conserve stocks of tropical tuna even as conservation groups criticised the decision to increase the catch limit of bigeye tuna.According to consensus reached at the 14th regular session of the commission which concluded on 8 December in Manila, the “bridging measures”, such as regulating and monitoring the use of fish aggregating device (FAD) and long lines of baited hooks, will be in place for three years while WCPFC members prepare a comprehensive tuna harvest strategy covering catch limits and spawn stocks.“Conservation and management measures shall ensure, at a minimum, that stocks are maintained at levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield, pending agreement on target reference points as part of the harvest strategy approach,” said the draft agreement (7 December).
The 26-member WCPFC, the governing body for international agreement on migratory fish in the Pacific, are composed mostly of small island states in the Pacific but also include developed countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan and the United States.
The WCPFC said the use of FADs will be prohibited for three months in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and two months in the high seas. Exempted are Kiribati-flagged vessels operating in the high seas adjacent to Kiribati’s EEZ and Philippine vessels fishing in corresponding situations.
FADs are semi-permanent floating structure made from any materials used to lure fish such as tuna. But FADs end up trapping other marine animals like sharks, sea turtles and dolphins, and also catch young tuna, precluding them from breeding.
Conservation and public interest groups welcomed the measures, but were critical of the commission’s decision to increase the catch limit of bigeye tuna by nearly 10 per cent. Critics have pointed out that the Commission misinterpreted the Scientific Committee’s report in August as suggesting that the bigeye is not overfished.
Holly Koehler, vice-president, International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Washington, explains the scientific committee of the WCPFC had referred to uncertainty in the bigeye stock status and recommended to maintain the current level so as not to decrease biomass.
“That’s why we asked that fishing mortality on bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks not increase from current levels to maintain current or increased spawning levels until the commission can agree on appropriate target reference points,” Koehler tells SciDev.Net.
Amanda Nickson, a director at Pew Charitable Trusts, says raising the catch limit will weigh on the bigeye’s biomass. “Commission members should ensure negotiations start immediately toward a stronger measure next year, to ensure precautionary, science-based management of its fisheries,” she says.
The western and central Pacific Ocean accounted for nearly 60 per cent of the global tuna catch in 2016, worth over US$ five billion.
The Pacific environmental agency SPREP says it’s happy with the progress made on conservation issues at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in The Philippines last week.
Measures approved by the commission included prohibiting the dumping of plastic from fishing vessels and moves to protect threatened species, namely seabirds, turtles and sharks.
SPREP’s threatened species advisor, Mike Donoghue, says they are substantive gains for conservation in the Pacific.
“We’re very pleased that we now have an opportunity to hold vessels and their skippers more accountable. We will be very pleased to work with Pacific island countries to and other interested parties to develop and deliver training modules so that crews understand that what used to be accepted practice in years gone by, just isn’t acceptable anymore, ” said Mike Donoghue.
In 2000, marine protected areas covered just 0.7 percent of the world’s oceans. Today 6.4 percent of the oceans are protected – about 9 million square miles. In 2010, 196 countries set a goal of protecting 10 percent of the world’s oceans by 2020.
Our research seeks to inform conservation policies that are effective, equitable and socially just. In our new study of established or proposed large marine protected areas in Bermuda, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Palau, Kiribati and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, we show that efforts to protect even remote sites can generate important outcomes for local residents that they may view as positive or negative. They can increase national pride and political leverage for indigenous populations, for example. They can also complicate international conservation negotiations or cause broad shifts in national economies.
Here we discuss the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, one of the world’s largest, which was created in 2015. This sanctuary illustrates how large-scale ocean conservation has the potential to produce important social benefits.
Palau is a small nation spread across several hundred islands in the western Pacific. As with many Pacific Island nations, Palau’s offshore tuna fishery is dominated by foreign vessels. Most of the revenues and fish that it produces are exported overseas. Only a small portion of the lowest-graded tuna makes it to Palau’s domestic market. At the same time, demand for seafood from Palau’s growing tourist industry is stressing other fish species in nearshore reefs.
As part of a sweeping conservation and development vision, the sanctuary designates 80 percent of Palau’s exclusive economic zone (defined in international law as waters extending from 12 up to 200 miles off its coastlines) as a no-take reserve, and the rest as a domestic fishing zone. Virtually all of the fish caught in this zone must be sold in Palau. Fishing in the no-take reserve will decline incrementally and end by 2020. Palau’s territorial, or coastal, waters lie outside the sanctuary boundaries, but are protected by other policies like the Protected Areas Network.
This design seeks to protect marine species by eliminating foreign commercial fishing in most of Palau’s waters, while developing a domestic fishing industry that supplies local markets with large open-ocean species like tuna. By shifting more consumption to these fish, it aims to reduce pressure on reef fisheries near shore. And by spotlighting these actions as part of a shift toward high-end tourism, it seeks to promote sustainable economic development.
As Palau’s President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. summarized, “The true purpose of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary is to protect our resources for our people.”
Translating these goals into action has triggered social changes within Palau. Sanctuary managers and nongovernment organizations are raising funds to provide more local fishermen with the midrange fishing vessels and capacity they need to access fish in the offshore domestic fishing zone. Many local fishermen are eager for this new livelihood source.
Palau’s government has drafted legislation and developed marketing campaigns that feature Palau’s conservation commitments. It is also increasing visitor fees and asking tourists to sign a Palau Pledge upon arrival, in which they promise to act in an environmentally and culturally responsible way during their stay.
While critics argue this strategy will do more for “rich tourists” than for conservation, we believe such assessments are premature. The goal is to limit the number of toilets flushing, divers on reefs and reef fish being eaten, while increasing revenue through higher returns from fewer visitors.
Importantly, we have seen no evidence that these changes will restrict local residents’ access to the spaces and resources they currently use. The domestic fishing zone is designed to give Palauans more access to fish in their waters. And Palau’s leaders have historically protected local access to the 445 Rock Islands – the primary destination for visitors – by designating only a small number for tourist use.
Linking offshore ocean protection to tradition
The marine sanctuary is also changing the way in which many Palauans relate to offshore ocean space. Palau’s council of highest ranking traditional leaders has enacted a customary law called a “bul” to protect the sanctuary through traditional protocols. A bul is conventionally used on land or in nearshore marine areas.
A member of Palau’s Council of Chiefs, which advises the president, told us that this is the first time traditional leaders have issued a bul in an offshore ocean area. This move has been controversial, but according to many of our interviewees, it grants the sanctuary a culturally important seal of approval and embeds offshore conservation within traditional knowledge and governance systems.
Of course, not all Palauans support the sanctuary. Some think the domestic fishing zone is too small, while others question how much protection the sanctuary actually offers for highly migratory open-ocean fish. Still others worry about possible lost fishing revenue or the impact of increasing visitor fees.
Future research should examine how these social changes unfold. So far, the evidence suggests that Palau’s sanctuary has potential to deliver both conservation and development gains.
Defining a new field
Palau’s sanctuary is one example of a new global phenomenon. But the race to create large ocean parks has outpaced science. Managers, along with biophysical and social scientists, are scrambling to answer questions about how well they work and who they benefit or harm.
Decades of research on smaller marine protected areas shows that they have to meet both biological and social goals to succeed. Now, more researchers are examining human dimensions across a number of large marine protected areas. Scientists can inform these conservation efforts by weighing evidence carefully in assessing how and why large ocean parks matter for people as well as for sea life.
MANILA, Philippines, December 7 – Environment NGOs have delivered a damning indictment of a group of Pacific Tuna Commission members, saying they have deliberately blocked conservation measures for the South Pacific Albacore tuna fishery.
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) is in the final hours of its week-long deliberation focused on new tropical tuna measures – the rules governing the fishery.
In the past 3 years moves to improve WCPFC rules for albacore have gone at a glacial pace.
“For years we have listened to impassioned pleas from every Pacific Island state with respect to their declining catch rates of South Pacific Albacore,” said Alfred (Bubba) Cook, Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager on behalf of WWF, Greenpeace and the EDF (Environmental Defense Fund).
But few Distant Water Fishing Nation members have been willing to join Pacific nations to take action.
“It seems, despite these impassioned pleas, despite the voluminous scientific and economic evidence put before you, you…don’t…care.
“You don’t care about the domestic industry in the Pacific. You don’t care about the communities in the Pacific Islands that are almost wholly dependent on this resource.
Moreover, you don’t appear to care about the health of the resource.”
The NGOs said most parties around the table had “bent over backwards” to try and accommodate a few demands and these members still refused to budge.
“There does not seem to be even a spirit of compromise. What would you agree to, honestly? Because despite the enormous efforts of most of the parties around the table, you continue to postpone adoption of target reference points and now claim that we should just wait for the next stock assessment or the next meeting or the next something.
“This, to us, seems like a crass delay tactic designed to buy one more year until you can develop another strategy to delay further. And meanwhile the Pacific industry and the countries that depend on the resource wither and die,” said Bubba Cook for the NGOs.
“What additional proof is required to convince you to be a good global citizen and inspire you to recognize your responsibility to the other countries and cultures in this room?
“Lastly, this is a disaster of your own making for a few of you.”
The NGOs said despite repeated calls and measures to limit capacity, these members had put more vessels into the fishery.
“And now, stunningly, you are upset at even the suggestion that you might have to withdraw that capacity and effort in the future. If you are worried about the potential impact on your industry, well, it is by your own hand and the rest of the members in this room shouldn’t have to suffer for your poor judgment.”
The NGOs said agreeing to a non-binding workplan left little satisfaction as it only served as another delay. They called on them to start living up to their collective responsibility to conserve and manage the critically important resource.
The western and central Pacific Ocean is home to the world’s most productive tuna fisheries, supplying global markets with canned tuna, sashimi and other tuna products. Industrial catches of skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye, and albacore are collectively worth approximately US$5.7 billion per year and account for 57% of the global tuna catch.
Unlike the predominately high seas tuna fisheries in other oceans, the tuna fisheries of the western and central Pacific overwhelmingly occur in waters under national jurisdiction – largely within a small group of Pacific small island developing states. These tuna fisheries are the only significant resource for some Pacific island nations, particularly the atoll countries, and have long been viewed as the primary development opportunity. Tuna can contribute up to 75% of government revenue, provide important employment opportunities and a critical source of food.
While the Pacific small island states hold sovereign rights over the most productive tropical fishing grounds, most of the catch is taken by vessels owned by companies from distant countries, such as Japan, the US, Taiwan, China, South Korea and in the European Union. These foreign vessels may either be based in Pacific island countries (due to licensing or joint venture requirements) or operate from a distant port.
Conservation is increasingly a concern as some tuna and associated species are threatened by overfishing. In addition, fishing levels often exceed maximum economic yields, significantly influencing productivity and profitability.
For the past two years, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) has been negotiating a replacement conservation measure to manage the tropical tuna fisheries for skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye. The WCPFC was established by treaty in 2004 with a mandate to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of the region’s tropical tuna fisheries. The WCPFC comprises all of the key coastal and distant water fishing nations (including Australia) and meets annually.
For the past week, approximately 700 delegates from more than 30 countries and territories met in Manila and argued over the replacement measure. Despite two years of preparatory work, and some inspiring leadership from the chair – Rhea Moss-Christian from the Federated States of Micronesia – delegates struggled to reach agreement due to ongoing fault-lines between the developing small island states on one hand and developed distant water fishing nations on the other.
The WCPFC faces a complex challenge. Consistent with the WCPFC Convention, scientific assessments have recommended a precautionary approach that protects tuna stocks and maintains the integrity of the ecosystem. The challenge is complicated not only by trans-boundary issues, also that each species of tropical tuna is caught by different gear in a tightly inter-meshed manner that is difficult, if not impossible, to separate. The migratory characteristics of these tropical tuna fisheries make it difficult to sufficiently limit catches of vulnerable bigeye, for instance, without impacting on fleets targeting the more resilient skipjack.
Successful conservation will involve sharing the burden. Given present levels of overfishing, some or all WCPFC members must compromise and under international law, the commission must ensure that conservation measures do not place a disproportionate conservation burden on developing states. Simultaneously the global community has recognised the importance of fisheries to small island nations by 2030 under the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Over the past week, developed distant water fishing nations paid lip service at best to the special requirements of small island nations. While Japan and the Pacific small islands countries drove negotiations for strong conservation measures, the US and China demanded increases in their limits above recommended levels. Under pressure from the US to limit participation, the chair cut most negotiations to heads-of-delegation only, undermining the ability of some small island countries to effectively participate without technical support staff, and destroying any pretence of transparency.
To reach agreement, Japan effectively gifted some of its unused limits from previous measures to China, while the US created a pool of all the unused potential limits from its Pacific territories to enable its Hawaiian longline fishing fleet to almost double its allowable quota.
The overall package of measures will not limit fisheries to scientifically recommended levels. But it does include two key provisions that offer hope. First, it establishes target reference points for skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye that will enable the development of long term harvest strategies. Second, the WCPFC agreed to establish a high seas allocation process to equitably distribute rights to the high seas fisheries. The Pacific small island nations had already allocated and limited their exclusive economic zone fisheries under the sub-regional Palau Arrangement. Now it is time to allocate rights for the high seas fisheries.
The two provisions allow the WCPFC a chance to resolve its ongoing conflict and answer important equity questions that are fundamental to conservation negotiations in the Pacific. This would modernise fisheries management, to explicitly determine what conservation burden each state should carry depending on their development characteristics. This approach is already evident in climate change negotiations, where there are principles of differentiated responsibilities between developed and developing states.
Equity concerns are fundamental. The WCPFC currently struggles to address these concerns in an ad hoc process for each conservation measure, leading to deeply political and economic arguments within a management and science framework that is not suited to this task. This framework inevitably becomes politicised as members propose conservation measures that best protect their own interests, and refute conservation arguments that don’t.
Hopefully, the WCPFC has now let a little light in. The new harvest strategy and allocation processes will open the way to negotiate transparent and equitable rules to manage these crucial fisheries.