Posted by Alfred ‘Bubba’ Cook & Katie Matthews
29 November 2012
Alfred ‘Bubba’ Cook serves as the Western & Central Pacific Ocean Tuna Programme Officer for the WWF Smart Fishing Initiative. Katie Matthews is Vice President of Policy Development & Outreach for the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.
Once again, all eyes are on the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) as member nations meet this week in Manila to address sustainability issues impacting the world’s richest tuna fishing grounds. Vessels in the western and central Pacific Ocean catch 59% of the world’s tuna supply, that’s nearly 2.3 million metric tons of fish. With demand for tuna showing no signs of letting up and more nations looking to fish, governments have an even greater responsibility to take actions today that protect this resource for future generations. One of the most important steps WCPFC member nations can take is to implement harvest control rules based upon well-defined reference points.
Fishery managers use target and limit reference points, which are set based on the best available scientific information, to help keep fishing at a sustainable level. The targets – which should be set individually for specific tuna stocks – pinpoint the optimal catch levels. Approaching the limit reference points would trigger additional steps to reduce fishing.
If for some reason the catch goes beyond the limit, harvest control rules would automatically go into effect to reduce or even stop fishing. This predetermined set of measures, such as limits on fishing days or reductions in allowable catch, allows fishery managers to take action immediately without having to wait for nations to agree to act, which as we know can take more time than it should. Fisheries that operate under harvest control rules offer a sense of security. There is no question what happens, and when, if a stock’s catch exceeds its limit. Without such rules the fishing community is in a state of constant negotiation, and every year, action is delayed, never takes place, or is inadequately implemented.
While most tuna RFMOs have at least begun consideration of reference points through their scientific committees, only CCSBT has fully implemented these measures. That’s why this week ISSF and WWF are urging nations to take the next step and implement these controls for the WCPFC. Affording fishery managers the ability to act swiftly and efficiently under a pre-agreed protocol protects both the sustainability of tuna stocks and the viability of an industry integral to coastal economies.
We’re hopeful that the WCPFC will do the right thing.