Posted by Claire van der Geest and Bubba Cook

23 September 2015

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 is Technical and Compliance Committee (TCC) time again in the western and central Pacific Ocean with the 11th TCC meeting scheduled from 23-29 September in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia. While some members have made great progress through stakeholder collaboration throughout the intersessional period, given the ongoing and pending issues again on the agenda, one wonders if we are attending TCC 10 or TCC 11? There is certainly a sense of déjà vu as we prepare for this meeting.

The sense of repetition is evident when reviewing the recommendations from the Scientific Committee and Northern Committee meetings (Summary Report WCPFC SC11). Scientists and the Science Provider highlight ongoing and systemic issues in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), including issues that relate directly to TCC’s work; for example, the lack of longline observer coverage and operational level data from a small number of members.

Like the Executive Director, Feleti Teo stated in his opening address to this year’s Scientific Committee meeting, ISSF and WWF are calling for early and ongoing communication amongst all stakeholders on the critical issues facing the Commission. We all recognize that these issues are highly charged and very difficult to navigate, but all parties would be wise to recall the overarching objective they are compelled to strive towards.

Tuna Management: It is time for action

The need to take decisive and effective management action for Pacific bluefin, North Pacific striped marlin, and bigeye tuna is urgent, with all of these species now below the Limit Reference Point (LRP) of 0.2SBMSY, (noting that the Commission only officially adopted the LRP for bigeye tuna). These issues must be addressed to enable the Commission to meet its mandate ‘…to ensure, through effective management, the long term conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish stocks…’ (WCPFC Convention Article 2).

To that end, WWF and ISSF continue to be actively focused on the development and implementation of reference points and harvest control rules for fisheries management. We continue to advocate that TCC provide clear recommendations to the Commission regarding the implementation of scientifically rigorous, simplified, and streamlined management measures for all species, but especially for those currently considered overfished and/or subject to overfishing. Specifically, we urge that the conservation and management measures include at minimum interim Harvest Control Rules and Reference Points and, where applicable, rebuilding strategies. Also, given that LRPs are not in place for most species under its jurisdiction, it is critical that the Commission agree to implement 0.2SBMSY for all fishery resources under its mandate.

On the Issue of Transparency

Unfortunately, the lack of transparency in the WCPFC compliance assessment process for the TCC remains unresolved. Notwithstanding the positive efforts undertaken during the intersessional period by the TCC Chair and WCPFC Executive Director to address this issues, both ISSF and WWF are disappointed to once again learn that four CCMs have objected to strengthened transparency. Regrettably, this means that the WCPFC still lags far behind all the other t 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 those four dissenting WCPFC members to strongly reconsider their position and work with the TCC Chair and the Secretariat to find a resolution that is in accord with the Convention and its Rules of Procedures.

Operational level Data and Longline Observer Coverage

Despite not being assessed in the 2014 Compliance Monitoring Scheme process, the requirement to submit operational level data is clear: parties are required to submit operational level data to the Commission in accordance with Section 3 of the Scientific Data to be Provided to the Commission (WCPFC Scientific Data Standards). The ongoing, but unfounded, claim by some States that aggregate catch and effort data is equivalent to operational data is simply false and that it has now taken more than eleven years to resolve domestic legal constraints is unfathomable.

We appreciate that China in respect of its longline fleets, and Korea in respect of its longline and purse seine fleets, provided limited operational data for the first time this year. However this does not dissolve the fundamental requirements of all States to ‘collect and share, in a timely manner, complete and accurate data concerning fishing activities…’ (WCPFC Convention Article 5(i)). These States must address the fundamental issues affecting their ability to comply with this essential obligation and elementary requirement of effective fisheries management.

In addition, most parties are not meeting their obligation to achieve the required 5% observer coverage on longline vessels. Critical to fisheries stock assessments, observer coverage provides important information on fishing activities including, for example, 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, it makes meaningful analysis of observer coverage impossible.

The TCC will be assessing members’ implementation of Conservation and Management Measures (CMMs), including issues related to the provision of scientific data and the failure of many longline fleets to meet the 5% observer coverage requirement. The issue of deficiencies in data and observer coverage remains fundamentally a flag State issue. We again strongly urge the TCC to clearly recommend that the Commission remove exceptions from the data standards and any non-compliance treated as a serious breach of WCPFC rules. These distant water fleets must do the right thing, and provide these data in the correct formats to the SPC – just like all other CCMs. We all know that timely and accurate submission of operational level data increases the precision of models and reduces uncertainty in stock assessments, thereby improving the basis for rigorous management decisions.

Transshipment: Closing Loopholes

Further, poor longline observer coverage and a sustained increase in high seas transhipment by longline vessels continues to undermine management decisions and the TCC is likely to again score many States as non-compliant with these requirements. ISSF and WWF again requests the TCC to make recommendations to amend the WCPFC transhipment measure (CMM 2009-06) in order to address gaps in its effectiveness (to learn more read ISSF’s technical paper on transshipment best practices), which affect traceability of the products and contributes to IUU fishing.

Emerging Technologies and FAD Management

WCPFC leads the exploration of new and emerging technologies and practices. ISSF and WWF are both very pleased to support pilot projects, ongoing intersessional work with WCPFC members and their industries and participate in the working group meeting on Electronic Reporting and Electronic Monitoring (ErEm). WWF is supporting a comprehensive analysis of ErEm that will look closely at the legal, regulatory and policy measures necessary to support those technologies as well as ensuring the sustainable financing of their implementation and operation. We look forward to continuing to progress the development and implementation of these technologies with WCPFC members.

On the management of FADs, ISSF and WWF advocate for improved data collection on FAD use, to be used by RFMO scientific bodies so that they can make appropriate FAD management recommendations. The newly-formed WCPFC FAD working group will explore opportunities for improved data collection and new technology development, as well as consider options for better monitoring, tracking and management, and ISSF and WWF support this effort. ISSF and WWF also urge the TCC to recommend the adoption of provisions for the use of non-entangling FADs and to expand the information required from vessels to include data on FAD deployments, designs, equipment and identification marks.

We encourage WCPFC parties and TCC delegates to make clear recommendations for the Commission meeting in December in Bali that enable the ongoing and long-term prosperity for all parties and for their industries.