If WCPFC can’t get bigeye right, is the rest of the fishery at risk?

17 November 2014

Posted by Claire van der Geest and Bubba Cook Claire van der Geest is a Strategic Policy Advisor for ISSF and Bubba Cook is the Western and Central Pacific Ocean Tuna Programme Manager at WWF.

Both ISSF and WWF are preparing for the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) Annual Meeting in Samoa next month, and our message is clear – act now to end the overfishing of bigeye tuna and improve compliance and transparency.

The scientific evidence is unequivocal. The data presented to WCPFC’S Scientific Committee shows that the bigeye stock is below the limit reference point established in 2012 revealing essentially one thing – that conservation and management measures (CMMs) adopted by the Commission since 2008 have been ineffective for bigeye conservation. And, thanks to closed-door meetings, stakeholders have limited visibility to the issues driving the continued decline in the stock. The situation is especially worrying when you consider the ongoing challenges WCPFC faces in receiving accurate and complete fishery data. These challenges include: members not fully complying with transhipment measures; observer coverage for some longline fleets that is far less than the mandated five percent, a coverage level that doesn’t provide statistically significant advice on which to base management decisions and nor it is useful for compliance purposes; undocumented tuna discards; and, most significantly, the failure of several members with major fleets to provide operational level data. In short, the status of the stocks may actually be worse than current estimates.

To end overfishing of bigeye, WCPFC members must take effective action at the 2014 Commission meeting to reduce fishing mortality by the scientifically recommended amount, 36 percent. Effective action starts with the implementation of a simple and enforceable CMM with no exemptions or exceptions. All parties must be prepared to negotiate and then implement the measure in good faith to ensure the future of the bigeye tuna resource together with other valuable tuna stocks in the region. Protection of these resources also hinges on the provision of more and better data regarding the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) because setting on FADs accounts for nearly 40% of global tuna catches and 50% of global skipjack catches. Moreover, observer programs are able to provide only some of the information needed to appropriately monitor FADs. That’s why we strongly support the Scientific and Technical and Compliance Committee recommendations for the creation of a Working Group on FAD management. ISSF urges the Commission to adopt Terms of Reference for this Working Group that address: FAD monitoring, tracking and control, FAD marking and identification, and use of electronic signatures.

The current situation with bigeye indicates other failings at WCFPC that are forcing many in the market, the public and other stakeholders to ask, If WCPFC can’t get bigeye right when the science is so clear on needing to reduce catches, how can we trust that the rest of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) tuna fishery can be well managed? It comes down to implementing a series of complementary, balanced practices and approaches that together have a powerful impact on the successful and sustainable management of the tuna fisheries – priorities that our organizations have consistently advanced.

Take for example, harvest strategies. Without an effective harvest strategy that includes well-developed target and limit reference points and harvest control rules, yellowfin and skipjack tuna may soon go the way of bigeye. The time to implement harvest strategies is now, while yellowfin and skipjack stocks are in relatively good shape. Waiting until these stocks are depleted below their limit reference points – as is the case with bigeye – is clearly imprudent. That’s why we are urging WCPFC to endorse proposals currently before the Commission that will lead to the development and implementation of harvest strategies, including target reference points and harvest control rules for all commercial tuna species.

Transparency in compliance is also critical to sustainable tuna fisheries. As in all regulations, ensuring implementation by all parties involved is often the sticking point. Given the vast size of the WCPO fisheries, in which many vessels operate at sea for as long as several months or years at a time, it is critical that effective tools are used to monitor implementation, and detect and deter non-compliance.

The good news is that there are emerging electronic monitoring and reporting systems (EMS) — innovative tools that can contribute considerably to future monitoring of on-the-water activities across various gear types. Trials of these electronic tools are now taking place in a number of WCPFC member countries in cooperation with coastal States, industry and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). Such systems are potential game changers: improving logbook data accuracy and coverage of fishing operations, as well as the provision of timely, more complete information to the scientists – all of which will help scientists to reduce uncertainty in stock assessments. There is also increasing evidence that the use of such technologies will result in more shore-based, high-skilled jobs in the region, in the form of analysts to collect and review data and video footage. We encourage the Commission to endorse the Technical Compliance Committee’s relevant recommendation, which supports broader use of these emerging technologies.

Monitoring implementation, and detecting non-compliance, is of course just one side of the coin. For an RFMO to be effective, it needs to have tools in place that ensure those nations that have committed to rules are actually implementing them. Unfortunately, thanks to an opaque compliance assessment process, there is inconsistent visibility to trouble spots or how member nations are adhering to WCPFC measures. We, along with other NGOs, continue to call for increased transparency in the WCPFC Compliance Monitoring Scheme, and we urge the Commission to amend its Compliance Monitoring Scheme measure to allow for the participation of accredited observers in the working group meeting, as is the practice in all other tuna RFMOs. Greater transparency in this process promotes legitimacy, reduces perceptions of unfairness and contributes to public and market confidence in the sustainable international management of global tuna fisheries through RFMOs.

There are many other important issues that the WCPFC needs to consider and take action on in Apia For example, taking real steps towards the management of fishing capacity; increasing the transparency of chartering and joint venture arrangements; adopting comprehensive shark conservation measures; addressing implementation issues in the transhipment measure. You can review the ISSF and WWF position statements to see our full and detailed list of appeals.

Our call to action is that the WCPFC take definitive action to end bigeye overfishing and to tackle the challenge of transparency and compliance in Apia. As the largest source of the world’s tuna, such tasks are imperative, though never easy. We stand by at the ready to support these efforts, and we look forward to working with all WCPFC members in Apia toward outcomes that will address the needs of the fisheries’ many stewards and stakeholders, while protecting the stocks for generations to come.



Click here to read the excerpt of this piece that ran in Samoa News