Media release: FFA takes climate change and a big agenda to WCPFC16

by Fatu Tauafiafi | 4 December 2019 | Media releases

Yellowfin tuna … stocks of this and other species are a focus of FFA's platform at WCPFC16. Photo: WWF

PORT MORESBY, 4 December 2019 – Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) members have developed a comprehensive list of priorities for the 16th meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC16), including climate change as a central plank.

The meeting opens in Port Moresby tomorrow, 5 December.

Forum Fisheries Committee Chair Eugene Pangelinan, of the Federated States of Micronesia, commended FFA members for their strong commitment and solidarity in preparing for WCPFC16, before listing the priorities for FFA Members which include progress on target reference points for key tuna stocks, tightening up monitoring of transshipment on the high seas, improving the process for reviewing compliance with measures, and making progress on high seas limits and management of longline fisheries. 

FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said FFA members are calling on the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to take stronger action on climate change.

“Climate change is the defining challenge of our generation and the impact on Pacific Island countries is particularly threatening, given that tuna fisheries provide significant economic, social and cultural benefits,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said. 

“FFA is asking for increased attention by Commission scientists on the implications of climate change for the region’s tuna stocks, and consideration of what conservation and management measures (CMMs) can be put in place to reduce the carbon footprint of both Commission activities and fishing in Pacific waters managed by the Commission. 

“Our members are proposing a resolution on Climate Change.”

Enhanced consultation between the WCPFC and small island developing states (SIDS) is also a key agenda item for FFA this year.

Mr Pangelinan said that FFA would be pushing in Port Moresby for Commission members to consult more comprehensively with SIDS when proposing new measures.

“Unfortunately, some measures have been presented to the Commission with inadequate assessments of the potential impacts on SIDS. For example, any measure that has significant implementation requirements should be informed by direct consultation with small island developing states,” he said

Mr Pangelinan and Dr Tupou-Roosen concluded by expressing thanks on behalf of FFA to Papua New Guinea for hosting this year’s Commission meeting.


Further details about key issues for FFA Members at WCPFC16 are in the attached below in the media backgrounder.

Media enquiries: Mr Tevita Tupou, +675 7333 9945

About Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA)

FFA assists its 17 member countries to sustainably manage fishery resources that fall within their 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs). FFA provides expertise, technical assistance and other support to its members who make decisions about their tuna resources and participate in regional decision making on tuna management.

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Tuna caught in Fiji. Photo: AFP.
Tuna caught in Fiji. Local livelihoods and thriving populations of tuna are at stake. Photo: AFP

Media backgrounder: Summary of key FFA agenda items for WCPFC16

Following are details of FFA’s key priorities at WCPFC16. 

The FFC Chair and the FFA Director-General will be available for brief media conferences or interviews during the Commission meeting, as time permits. Please direct requests to Mr Tevita Tupou on +675 7333 9945 or by email to

1. Climate change

Tuna fisheries are a critical resource for many Pacific Island countries, providing essential social and economic benefits. The impacts of climate change are particularly severe in the Pacific and place at great risk the benefits of the region’s tuna fisheries for small island developing states (SIDS).

FFA members are therefore calling on the WCPFC to collectively take stronger action on climate change, and will introduce resolution DP04 seeking that the Commission:

  1. Fully recognise the impacts of climate change, in particular on the fisheries, food security and livelihoods of small island developing states and territories.
  2. Take into account in its deliberations, including in the development of conservation and management measures, the impacts of climate change on target stocks, non-target species, and species belonging to the same ecosystem or dependent or associated with the target stocks.
  3. Estimate the carbon footprint of fishing and related activities in the Convention Area for fish stocks managed by the Commission and develop appropriate measures to reduce such footprint.
  4. Develop options such as carbon offsets to decrease the collective carbon footprint of CCMs and the WCPFC Secretariat associated with meetings of the Commission and its subsidiary bodies.

2. Tuna measures

Skipjack tuna

The skipjack target reference point (TRP) is due for review at WCPFC16. FFA members support the Scientific Committee recommendation that the review be informed by the latest stock assessment. This indicates that a spawning biomass depletion ratio of 42% will achieve roughly the same fishery outcomes as the 50% TRP was projected to achieve when it was adopted in 2015. 

Therefore, our recommendation is that the Commission adopt a 42% TRP, which is consistent with the level of fishing and the status of the skipjack stock in 2012.

Bigeye and yellowfin tuna

WCPFC16 is due to agree TRPs for yellowfin and bigeye tuna, which will be important in terms of implementing harvest strategies. 

FFA members want to maintain bigeye and yellowfin stocks at levels that will create a very low risk of breaching the limit reference points (LRPs), consistent with the UN Fish Stocks Agreement guidelines. They also want modest increases in stock levels, to support ongoing economic management of the purse-seine fishery and to facilitate development opportunities for the SIDS’ longline fisheries.

In the absence of agreement on new TRPs, FFA feels strongly that the current objectives in the Tropical Tuna Measure for Yellowfin and Bigeye must be maintained. We also believe the economic, social and biological implications of the TRPs must be carefully considered, including their interaction with the TRP for skipjack tuna.

Reaching agreement on these TRPs at WCPFC16 is a challenging task, given the diverse objectives of Commission members. If consensus isn’t possible, WCPFC16 needs to clearly identify any further technical work required to support a decision in 2020, and capacity building to ensure all Commission members understand the implications of harvest strategy elements. 

South West Pacific swordfish 

FFA will encourage WCPFC16 to support advice from the Scientific Committee that current conservation and management measures for Swordfish (CMM 2009-03) need to be strengthened.

Northern stocks

North Pacific swordfish and North Pacific albacore tuna appear to be in relatively good shape, but the Pacific bluefin stock level remains a problem, and this risks the reputation of the WCPFC when the health of other stocks demonstrates good management. 

South Pacific Albacore work plan

FFA is seeking renewed focus on the work to build the South Pacific albacore fishery to the TRP agreed in 2018.

FFA has taken the lead in revising the South Pacific Albacore Roadmap work plan, to focus on setting an overall hard limit and on the split of the overall hard limit between the high seas and the exclusive economic zones (EEZs). 

The other priority is to ensure that the new measure for South Pacific albacore recognise zone-based management (ZBM), EEZ limits, data collection, and reporting requirements.

3. High seas limits

High seas limits and allocation are also a focus for FFA this year. FFA is providing perspectives to the Commission on the provisions of CMM 2018-01 that commit to limits and an allocation framework for the purse seine and longline fisheries in the high seas. FFA members will promote agreement on a process for 2020 for advancing negotiations on high seas limits, with a view to reaching an agreement at WCPFC17. 

FFA members will promote agreement on a process for 2020 for advancing negotiations on high seas limits, with a view to reaching an agreement at WCPFC17. 

4. Compliance monitoring scheme

FFA members have worked hard with other Commission members over the last several years in the review of the Compliance Monitoring Scheme. Of high priority in the reform of the scheme is the way in which the Commission reviews the performance of members in implementing their monitoring and enforcement obligations at the national level. FFA members support the Commission’s role in identifying and targeting systemic issues with the implementation of obligations by Commission members and moving away from reviewing and assessing the actions of individual vessels. The core purpose of the Compliance Monitoring Scheme is to review the actions of flag states in respect of their vessel activities, and not of the individual vessels themselves. This approach is taken with a view to promoting and supporting compliance by all members as the foundation for achieving Commission management objectives.

5. Transhipment

FFA members remain concerned about the lack of effective monitoring of transhipment on the high seas, particularly by large-scale freezer longline vessels. This constitutes a significant gap in our ability to monitor and verify longline catches on the high seas, and we consider it to be a high priority issue for the Commission’s work to stamp out illegal fishing.

The FFA is seeking finalisation of the Transhipment Intersessional Working Group’s 2020 work plan, with a focus on identifying gaps in the current measure and defining measures to close those gaps. 

Our members will advocate at WCPFC16 for adequate resources for this important work.

6. Harvest strategy

FFA is seeking more detailed economic analyses to support the harvest strategy work plan as it enters a complex stage at WCPFC16. FFA’s position is what while the work plan should be ambitious, it must also be realistic and there is a need for capacity building for SIDS and other Commission members to ensure they fully understand the harvest strategy work and its implications. 

One of the key issues before the Commission will be targets for multiple species and how these might be achieved (e.g. harvest-control rules). FFA notes that SC15 endorsed a hierarchical approach for multi-species considerations. Members want further time to consider the implications of this, noting that it is likely to involve changes to the structure of the work plan. 

7. Consultation with SIDS

FFA members are concerned about the lack of consultation with SIDS by some WCPFC member nations when proposing new measures to the Commission. 

Some measures have been presented to the Commission with inadequate assessments of the potential impacts on SIDS, including implementation costs where additional investment will be required. Impact assessments require consultation and this must take place well in advance of Commission meetings when new proposals are being considered

On another issue, FFA members look forward to receiving the WCPFC Secretariat’s report on the first year of the Strategic Investment Plan. FFA members express appreciation for the voluntary contributions from Australia, Canada, Korea and the United States to the Special Requirements Fund.

8. Electronic reporting and monitoring

FFA views the Electronic Reporting (ER) and Electronic Monitoring (EM) Working Group as extremely important, particularly for the longline fishery where the reporting record of many vessels is poor and independent verification of vessel reporting through observer courage is struggling to reach 5%. 

As standards and procedures for ER for both operational catch and observers have now been agreed for two years, FFA believes a date should be set for 100% electronic reporting by all active vessels on the Record of Fishing Vessels (RFV), and by all observers. 

We note that many FFA members are implementing ER for fishing within their EEZs, and propose that ER be implemented for all fishing on the high seas by the start of the 2022 fishing year.

The next step is to recommend Commission-wide minimum standards for electronic monitoring (EM). The work that done this year on reviewing data requirements and sources and determining priority gaps, should enable the Working Group to progress this task in 2020. 

9. Bycatch

Mobulid ray measure

FFA members are putting forward a proposal for a new measure to prevent targeted fishing and retention, and promote the safe release, of mobulid rays such as manta rays when they are caught by WCPFC fisheries. 

10. Charter Notification Scheme

As CMM 2016-05 expires this year, FFA members propose a roll-over of the measure for a further two years. The Charter Notification Scheme is an essential component of WCPFC’s fisheries management framework and facilitates SIDS’ participation in fisheries. For example, chartering provides a mechanism for SIDS to develop their own commercial tuna fisheries in an incremental manner without requiring an unaffordable initial capital investment.

11. Harmful fisheries subsidies

FFA members reiterate the call by Pacific fisheries ministers at the 16th FFC Ministerial Meeting in June 2019 for negotiations to be completed on a new WTO agreement to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies.

These subsidies can contribute to economic losses in the fisheries sector and distort global fish markets, with serious impacts on food security and livelihoods, particularly in SIDS. 

We support the ministers’ view that any outcome should not unnecessarily constrain the ability of SIDS to develop their tuna fisheries and that appropriate differential treatment for SIDS should be an integral part of these negotiations. 


The following acronyms will be in common use during WCPFC16. 

Acronyms in common use at WCPFC16