The Committee has an important role to play in advancing priority issues at the WCPFC – from harvest strategies to longline observer coverage to assessing member compliance with WCPFC obligations

By Claire van der Geest and Bubba Cook

Claire van der Geest is Strategic Policy Advisor for ISSF, and Bubba Cook is the Western and Central Pacific Ocean Tuna Programme Manager at World Wide Fund for Nature.

It’s Technical and Compliance Committee (TCC) time again in the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO), marking the beginning of a busy few months in the WCPO. Each December at the annual WCPFC meeting, fisheries managers review updated scientific advice, discuss key tuna sustainability issues, and adopt effective and enforceable conservation and management measures. It’s the culmination of months or even years of ongoing work by many supporting committees and working groups.

The TCC meeting is one example of this leading work, with its agenda setting the stage for technical discussions on priority tuna issues, and providing recommendations to the WCPFC Commission and member country fisheries managers on those issues. ISSF and WWF are pleased to attend the TCC meeting annually, and, as in years past, we have a series of appeals that seek to propel much-needed progress this year at the December Commission meeting.

Harvest Strategies

With diligent management, overfishing should not be an issue. But politics can prevent or delay agreement on necessary management actions. A pre-determined, comprehensive harvest strategy provides a Harvest Control Rule (HCR) that adjusts a fishery’s management system depending on the stock status and ensures stocks are not overfished and are maintained at an optimal level.

Management of WCPO tuna stocks would be made easier with agreement on reference points and pre-determined HCRs. The idea behind harvest strategies is straightforward:

  • Fisheries managers, with the help of scientists, agree to a set of objectives to be achieved and limits to be avoided. You could think of this as the goal post being the target reference point (TRP), and the boundary line being the limit reference point (LRP), both of which managers set for the stock.
  • Secondly, managers, with the help of scientific modelling and management strategy evaluation (MSE), agree on management actions — actions to take if the stock status declines from the TRP, and further management action if the stock is close to, or falls below, the LRP.
  • It is the status of the stock or position of the stock relative to these reference points, or goal posts and boundary lines, that is used to determine future management actions. The pre-agreed-upon management measures allow for immediate implementation of corrective action.

ISSF and WWF recognize the progress WCPFC has made in adopting limit and target reference points for skipjack along with limit reference points for bigeye, yellowfin and south Pacific albacore, as well as a work plan adopted last year to establish Harvest Strategies for key fisheries and stocks. We continue to advocate that the Commission adhere to the adopted 2015 harvest strategy work plan and make the necessary decisions this year — for example, a rebuilding timeframe for bigeye, management objectives for albacore, and acceptable levels of risk — to allow MSE and other work to proceed as scheduled in 2017.

That’s why ISSF and WWF are pleased to see Australia’s TCC proposal for “Adopting Interim Acceptable Levels of Risk for Breaching Limit Reference Points of Four Key Tuna Species in the WCPO.” We urge the TCC to make clear recommendations on these essential issues to the Commission.

Compliance Transparency — the Missing Link

The lack of transparency in the WCPFC compliance assessment process for the TCC remains unresolved. Notwithstanding the positive efforts undertaken last year by the TCC Chair and WCPFC Executive Director to address this issues, both ISSF and WWF are disappointed that there has been no progress on strengthening transparency by using the existing framework of the WCPFC Convention to allow accredited observers access to the Compliance Monitoring Scheme Working Group. This means that the WCPFC still lags far behind all the other tuna RFMOs in this regard, and, in doing so, to their obligations under Article 21 of the Convention and Rule 36 of the Rules of Procedure.

We urge WCPFC members to strongly reconsider their position on this issue. They must work with the TCC Chair and the Secretariat to find a resolution that is in accord with the Convention and its rules of procedures, including with respect to access to and dissemination of non-public domain data.

Electronic Monitoring

We congratulate the WCPFC on leading the exploration of new and emerging technologies and practices for fisheries management. ISSF and WWF are both very pleased to support Electronic Reporting and Electronic Monitoring (EmEr) pilot projects, ongoing intersessional work with WCPFC members and their industries, and participation in the EmEr working group meeting.

ISSF and WWF look forward to progressing the development and implementation of these technologies with WCPFC members. We urge the TCC to support the recommendations of the EmEr Working Group to progress the development of an E-monitoring Program, and adopt standards for E-reporting.

Longline Fisheries

ISSF and WWF remain concerned that a number of parties are still not meeting their obligation to achieve the current 5% observer coverage requirement on longline vessels. Critical to fisheries stock assessments, observer coverage provides important information on fishing activities, including catch composition, effort, and interactions with associated and dependent species.

The WCPFC must agree to a standard measurement of observer coverage on longline vessels that meets a best practice standard that can be comparative among all fisheries, such as percentage of observer coverage based on number of hooks set. Without a consistent standard, meaningful analysis of observer coverage is impossible, and scientists are limited in providing advice on the effectiveness of coverage rates in meeting specific management objectives.

ISSF and WWF are equally concerned with the continued failure of some member States to provide the required transhipment reports or advance notifications. The work of the WCPFC EmEr Working Group and the electronic monitoring systems and e-reporting that are being tested and developed could potentially be used to address some of these problems. But that does not remove the obligation of all states to implement the transhipment measure in full. 

Scientific Committee reports continue to highlight the continued lack of operational data for longline fleets in the high seas. Scientists have noted that insufficient operational level data undermines the development of standardized longline catch per unit of effort (CPUE) indices, which are critically important inputs to stock assessments, among other activities.

The TCC will be assessing members’ implementation of these conservation measures. The issue of deficiencies in data and observer coverage remains fundamentally a flag State issue.

ISSF and WWF again strongly urge the TCC to clearly recommend that the Commission remove exceptions from the data standards and any non-compliance be treated as a serious breach of WCPFC rules.  All flag States must do the right thing, and provide these data in the correct formats to the SPC. 

We encourage WCPFC parties and TCC delegates to make clear recommendations for the Commission meeting in December in Fiji, and we echo all appeals for decisions that enable the ongoing and long-term prosperity the tuna fisheries of the region, and for all parties, their communities and industries.