The 26 nations that govern the world’s biggest fishery left it to the last minute to agree to new rules for three economically crucial tropical tuna species – skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye.
PacNews reports the adoption of a new tropical tuna Bridging Measure at three o’clock in the morning on the last day of the meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission was greeted with applause after days of gruelling negotiations.
It is being hailed as a success for Commission Chair Rhea Moss-Christian.
Other measures approved by the Commission include action to address plastic marine pollution and to boost the capacity of Pacific nations to step up the fight against illegal fishing with more vessel inspections in their ports.
The meeting failed to reach agreement on measures for albacore tuna, proposed by Pacific countries, but did agree to prioritise albacore at next year’s meeting.
The Tropical Tuna Measure, which regulates a catch worth $US4.5 billion, is a three-year agreement.
It is designed to ensure skipjack, bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks are maintained at recent average levels and capable of producing maximum sustainable yield.
“For this Commission to come away from this meeting without having a measure in place would have been a disgrace,” Rhea Moss-Christian told journalists after the decision.
Many distant water nations played a role in the final outcome but Ms Moss-Christian and the Forum Fisheries Agency highlighted the role of Japan, in particular.
The Forum Fisheries Agency says new restrictions could fall on foreign fisheries operating in Pacific waters.
The comments come as the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, or Tuna Commission, takes place in Pasay City in the Philippines.
The FFA’s director-general, James Movick, said it was too early to tell how much fish could be caught on the high seas and action needed to be taken to ensure the rest of the world held off on overfishing.
“We do have to move towards establishing hard limits that can be followed in all of the fisheries both in-zone and on the high seas, allocating those fairly and then adopting harvest control rules so that in the future when we do run into situations of overfishing or threats, risks to the state of the fishery we are able to make decisions,” said James Movick.
Mr Movick’s comments echo those of Fiji’s fisheries minister Semi Koroilavesau, who told the meeting Fiji’s fishery may collapse under the pressure of overfishing.
Also this week, Solomon Islands announced its withdrawal from the Tokelau Arrangement for South Pacific albacore, saying it was too restrictive on fisheries development.
However, Mr Movick said he hadn’t received a formal notice of this move and hoped the Solomons would stay in the agreement.
“Unless we can establish some limits to the Southern albacore long line fishery, everyone stands a good chance of going bust. It doesn’t matter which deck chair you’re sitting on when the Titanic goes down. When the ship goes down, all the chairs go down,” James Movick said.
The Tuna Commission meeting ends tomorrow.
Fiji’s fisheries minister Semi Koroilavesau says Pacific tuna is under threat from the world’s largest fishing nations including China, Japan and South Korea.
He is critical of what he said was the inaction of the Western and Central Pacific Fishing Commission in controlling overfishing in the high seas and the low catches within regional fisheries zones.
Mr Koroilavesau told the annual meeting of the Tuna Commission in Pasay City in the Philippines that Fiji does not want to see this continue as the country’s fishery may collapse under the pressure.
The Tuna Commission makes its decision by consensus and easily deadlocked by recalcitrant fishing nations.
The Forum Fisheries Agency’s director-general, James Movick, said there was a need for the region to confront the distant water fishing nations.
Mr Movick said the time had come to step up conversations around the economics of tuna and what countries, thinking regionally, are prepared to take – and give – so that the Pacific can protect its fisheries resource, and achieve its economic aspirations.