International Fisheries Management Commission Agrees to Strategy to Amend Measures to End Pacific Bigeye Tuna Overfishing

Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission HONOLULU, HI, December 16, 2010: On Friday, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) concluded its week-long 7th Regular Session, in Ko Olina, Hawaii. Over four hundred delegates and observers from Pacific nations and territories as well as the European Commission participated in the meeting. The Commission made headway, but no consensus on the key issues related to overfishing of Pacific bigeye tuna and capping purse-seine fishing capacity in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. Decisions on these and other major items are as follows:

Bigeye Tuna Overfishing. The Commission adopted a strategy for 2011 to work on a new Conservation and Management Measure (CMM) for bigeye tuna. The new draft CMM may also include measures for yellowfin and skipjack tunas. The Commission recognized that the measures put in place for 2009-2011 have not met the targeted 30 percent reduction in bigeye fishing mortality.  While the Pacific bigeye tuna stock is not overfished, its spawning biomass has been reduced by 75 percent since the 1950s. The existing CMM for bigeye tuna has resulted in an approximately 20 percent reduction of  longline harvest of adult bigeye tuna, but it has not  curbed the bycatch of juvenile bigeye by the purse-seine fleets utilizing fish aggregation devices.

Purse Seine Capacity. The Commission considered a proposal tabled by Japan to cap the number of purse seine vessels fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) at current levels, but the Commission did not reach agreement on this proposal.  The issue is complex as some countries have boats on the assembly line or in the planning stages, and the small island developing states (SIDS) aspire to develop their purse seine fisheries. Skipjack tuna, which is targeted by purse seine fleets for canned tuna, is not experiencing overfishing, but there is concern that increases in the skipjack catches should be viewed with caution. Since 2004, total catch by purse seine vessels in the WCPO has increased by approximately 40 percent. More than half of the world’s tuna catch is harvested in the WCPO.  Recent reports indicated that skipjack stocks are not seasonally migrating at usual abundance to the high latitude waters, e.g., near Japan and New Zealand.

Striped Marlin. The Commission adopted a measure that calls for Commission members cooperating non-members with vessels fishing in the Convention area north of the equator to reduce their harvests of North Pacific striped marlin by 10 percent below the highest catch they made between 2000 and 2003. The measure also calls for further reductions in 2012 and 2013 and beyond; however, the measure may be amended pending the completion of a new North Pacific striped marlin stock assessment in 2011.

Eastern High Seas Pocket. The Cook Island’s proposal for a Special Management Area in the Eastern High Seas Pocket was agreed to by the Commission. This CMM requires vessels of Commission members and cooperating non-members to provide entry/exit/catch reports to the Commission when operating in the Eastern high seas pocket bounded by the Exclusive Economic Zones of the Cook Islands to the west, French Polynesia to the east and Kiribati to the north.

Shark Assessment and Research Program. The Commission approved a shark assessment and research program recommended by its Scientific Committee which aims to determine the stock status of key Commission-managed shark species in the WCPO.  The program is unique among tuna RFMOs in its scope which covers data collection and improvement, research and assessment and will be led by one of the world’s leading shark researchers, Dr. Shelley Clarke. The program will focus on blue, mako, silky, oceanic whitetip and thresher sharks and can be extended to other shark species, such as porbeagle and hammerheads, as the program matures.

New Officers: For 2011 and 2012, the Commission will be chaired by Dr. Charles Karnella, of the United States. Vice-chair will be Mr. Matthew Hooper of New Zealand.

2011 Meetings: The Commission’s Scientific Committee will meet in August in Pohnpei, FSM. The Commission’s Technical and Compliance Committee will meet in October in Pohnpei, FSM. The Commission will meet in December in Palau.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) was established by the Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPF Convention) which entered into force on 19 June 2004. The Convention was concluded after six years of negotiation which commenced in 1994.
Members: Australia, China, Canada, Cook Islands, European Union, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Japan, Kiribati, Korea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Chinese Taipei, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States of America, Vanuatu.

Participating Territories: American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, French Polynesia, Guam, New Caledonia, Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna.

Cooperating Non-members: Belize, Indonesia, Senegal, Mexico, El Salvador, Ecuador and Vietnam.

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