WCPFC13-2016 Chairperson Ms Rhea Christian-Moss

Pacific nations and global fishing powers meeting in Nadi, Fiji at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission 13th regular session have been urged to get over their differences in the interests of conservation and sustainable management of tuna and other economically important marine species.

“There is an extreme divergence of Member interests, exacerbated by interest groups with entrenched and jealously guarded positions,” Feleti Teo executive director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) told almost 600 guests and delegates attending the opening of this year’s annual meeting.

The WCPFC brings together all the nations that fish in the Western, Central and Pacific Ocean area,  and the resource-owning Pacific nations who have sovereign claim to most of it. Regional organisations, scientists, industry groups and NGOs including international environment organisations attend the Commission meeting as observers.

As well as the divergent interests, the Commission is charged with managing a fishery that is multi-stock, multi-species, multi-fisheries, multi-gear and multi-zoned.

“The scorecard in terms of how the Commission is discharging that responsibility is a mixed one,” Teo told delegates.

“Two of the key commercial tuna stocks, namely bigeye tuna and Pacific Bluefin tuna, are assessed by our own scientists to be in an overfished state and recovery management plans are urgently needed to restore those stocks to sustainable levels.

“I hope the Commission can find a way forward this week to lay the foundation for those recovery plans.

In her opening statement the Chair of the Commission, Ms. Rhea Moss-Christian, spoke of the need to “take small steps” to tackle challenges facing the Commission rather than no steps at all, which has sometimes been the case on important issues at past meetings.

“I understand how past disagreement on critical management action may have left some of you feeling discouraged.

“But a willingness to be more flexible and to find ways to move forward should be our mantra,” Ms Moss-Christian said

“In this context, I am asking you to commit to taking – at the very least – some small steps this year on the issues before us,” she added.

“Big leaps forward would obviously be great. But that’s a stretch in this forum. So let’s not diminish the value of incremental progress as a platform for reaching our goals,” she concluded.

The meeting was officially opened by Fiji’s Minister for Forests, Osea Naiqama, after a traditional Fijian welcome featuring a kava ceremony and presentation of an enormous roasted pig.

“We come from our various homelands representing our own people and I respect the need for members to uphold, or strengthen their respective national interests,” Mr Naiqama said.

“With this said, I acknowledge the fact that this will present us with certain tests this week.

“I view this as a ‘positive test of strength’ and with the firm belief that each member and distinguished representative is truly committed to working together to apply prudence and care to each of the important issues,” he added.

He said the ever-evolving modern world has given the Commission more tools to assist members in better understanding their work through this Commission.

“Technological, biological, economical, and sociological dimensions have evolved considerably in such ways that can help us better understand the surface as well as deeper aspects of the oceans and fisheries resources under our care,” he said.

There are many difficult issues to be tackled.

“With the ever-increasing impacts of climate change on our oceans and its fisheries resources, compounded by the pressures of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing activities, it is our collective duty, more so now than ever, to ensure that the Commission, begotten by us and for us, elevates the oceans and its species under our care to a state of sanctity once again, so that nothing of value may perish from the sea,” Mr Naiqama concluded.