It covers the subtropical and tropical waters of the WCPO, and informs users about the best methods for handling and releasing sharks and rays, recommended by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.
Many shark and ray species in the WCPO (and elsewhere in the world) are in danger of dying out, and accidental catch during fishing is a major cause of deaths in some species. If these species are to be saved, scientists and fisheries managers need accurate figures on how many are being caught. And that means being able to identify them reliably.
SPC says that, as well as helping fishers, it also helps observers, who collect operational data from fishing and report back to fisheries managers, who use the information to manage not just tuna fishing but the care of the marine environments that tuna rely on to remain healthy.
To make identification at sea easier, the illustrations show the most important distinguishing features of each species, and its colour when alive.
Identification will also be made easier by the inclusion of the common name for each animal in six languages: Cantonese, English, French, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, and Spanish.
The manual is written by Timothy Park, Lindsay Marshall, Aymeric Desurmont, Boris Colas and Neville Smith, and illustrated by shark and ray illustrator Dr Lindsay Gutteridge, who is also a scientist.
The new manual refines an older guide that defines 30 species of sharks and rays.
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.
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.
This is the fifth in a series of articles commemorating a decade of shark conservation work.
Even as momentum builds for protecting sharks through regional and international bodies, many countries have opted to act with their own conservation laws. The Philippines, for example, developed a framework and passed a bill to protect these vital animals, and Fiji is finalizing regulations to prohibit commercial fishing of most shark species within its waters. Both countries have championed listings of sharks and rays by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The Pew Charitable Trusts caught up with A.A. Yaptinchay, director of Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, and Aisake Batibasaga, former fisheries officer of Fiji’s Ministry of Fisheries, to hear how decisions for domestic protections for sharks and rays have propelled the two countries into the role of shark champions.
Q: How did your country decide it needed to protect and manage sharks?
Aisake Batibasaga: I became aware of the less-than-honest practices of fisherfolk and exporters fishing Fiji’s waters. Illegal fishing practices were rapidly depleting shark populations across Fiji. Shark bycatch was increasing, as local fishing crews were complementing their meager incomes [by selling] fins. Working with local, regional, and international partners, we set out to develop strong policies to better conserve and manage vulnerable and endangered shark species. We continue that work today in the hope that sharks remain an integral part of our marine ecosystem, our tourism industry and economy, and our culture.
A.A. Yaptinchay: The Philippines lies within the Coral Triangle, the center of marine biodiversity in the world, and sharks are very much an important part of the Philippine seas. We have seen sharks utilized as food, from directed fishing and bycatch, as well as tourism. We were concerned that there is not enough information available or management measures in place to ensure that our shark populations are not negatively affected.
Q: What hurdles did you overcome to help get these measures passed?
Batibasaga: Lack of resources, expertise, and funds to provide wider coverage and coordination between fisheries, border patrol, and customs officers. Organizations such as the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), and the Pacific Community (SPC), and especially Pew have been instrumental in providing technical expertise, support, and resources for advocacy and strategic policy development in Fiji and the region—and for this we are deeply thankful.
Yaptinchay: We try to employ a participatory and interdisciplinary approach in the development of the 2020 Roadmap and the Shark Conservation Bill, but it is difficult to get input from all the stakeholders, including sectors like the cosmetics industry. Transparency and shared information are critical. The bill is with our politicians now, and momentum has waned because of the national elections in May 2019, but we expect progress after the campaign period.
Q: What changes have you seen as a result of these policies in the perception of sharks within your communities?
Batibasaga: Due to strong advocacy and strategic outreach on the ecological, economic, and social significance of sharks, Fijians are beginning to understand that protecting their sharks and reefs is tantamount to protecting the fish the locals eat—the Pacific islanders’ supermarket. Sharks are no longer just a culturally iconic predator but a vital part in the marine ecosystem and economy.
Yaptinchay: Creating a conservation framework allowed all sectors to participate in shark conservation. In 2014, a coalition of NGOs and government agencies created the Save Sharks Network Philippines, which increased awareness and support by educating and engaging the public and government agencies.
Q: What management measures are in place or in progress in your country?
Batibasaga: Protections for CITES-listed species are under the Offshore Fisheries Management Act and corresponding regulations. Fiji is finalizing regulations under the act to protect many shark and ray species from commercial fishing. Fiji also has both a regional and national plan of action for sharks and implements the conservation and management measures from the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, including a ban on catching silky and oceanic whitetip sharks.
Yaptinchay: Aside from the National Plan of Action—Sharks, the Philippines’ 2020 Roadmap targets increased information, regulation, awareness, and governance on issues related to shark conservation. One output is the Shark Conservation Bill, which was approved in the House of Representatives in February 2019. The Philippines also recognizes all sharks and rays listed in CITES as fully protected in the country, and the entire island of Cebu also passed local legislation to protect all sharks, rays, and chimeras.
Q: How have domestic measures helped make your country a global leader in shark conservation?
Batibasaga: Fiji government representatives are not only the voice of Fiji but the voice of the region. Protecting sharks is protecting our marine biodiversity, which is integral to our way of life. The Pacific must lead the way, since we are among those most prone to adverse environmental challenges. Our shark and ray regulations will act as a model for our Pacific neighbors and countries around the world. We may be a small island country, but we will continue to champion conservation efforts because our way of life depends on the actions we take today.
Yaptinchay: The Philippines has been championing species for listing in both CMS and CITES. We realized that the Philippines is in a unique position to influence our neighboring countries, particularly the ASEAN region, to support more international treaties and commitments and use the outputs and learnings from our projects as a means of promoting shark conservation globally.