10 Dec 2013

Conservationists upset Pacific regional fisheries meeting failed to limit tuna catches

5:49 pm on 10 December 2013

Conservationists say they are extremely disappointed a consensus was not reached to limit tuna catches at a Pacific regional fisheries meeting.

The Pew Charitable Trust, the eight island members of the Parties to the Nauru agreement and Japan and the Philippines, were backing a call to reduce tuna catches, at the annual Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in Cairns, Australia last week.

Beverley Tse has more.

The Director of the Global Tuna Conservation programme for the United States based Pew Charitable Trust, Amanda Nickson says there's been ten years of scientific advice that bluefin and bigeye tuna has been overfished and she is worried these and other species will continue to be overfished.

She says negotiations were deadlocked through the course of the tuna commission meeting as some countries were unwilling to compromise.

"AMANDA NICKSON: They had a clear mandate to actually determine how to end overfishing of bigeye tuna by 2018 and they failed to do that. They've agreed on no additional measures for purse seine fisheries really in 2014 and they put off all the other major decisions about fishing beyond 2014 to future meetings, which just means we're going to have this debate again and that is really not acceptable for those countries to come together and not find a solution."

Amanda Nickson says the outcome of the event was a mixed bag as delegates were able to reach an agreement to ban the fishing of silky sharks and to adopt a unique vessel identification system to address illegal fishing. Greenpeace says the results of the discussions were incredibly weak and failed on many fronts to stop overfishing of tuna and prevent other species from the threat of becoming overfished. An oceans campaigner Karli Thomas says the goal of limiting tuna catches was hampered when discussions were only open to one or three observers from environmental NGOs.

KARLI THOMAS: Certainly we've seen a really worrying trend in the Pacific Tuna Commission in this past year particularly that many, many more of their discussions have been held in closed sessions and behind closed doors. And that's actually against their own convention, which only allows for that under exceptional circumstances. You know this is the bread and butter of the Commission to agree on a conservation measure on the three main tuna species so that's hardly exceptional circumstances.

She says some countries even walked away with a mandate to increase tuna catches.

KARLI THOMAS: One clear example is the European Union's purse seine fleet. It's only a few vessels but they have a very high catch on the high seas. They agreed back in 2008 to limit that to 100 days and they've walked away from this meeting allowed to fish more than 400 days in the high seas. So there are some real areas where things are spiralling out of control.

The executive director of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission says the decisions made do not go far enough and do not reflect well on the commission, which provides about 60 percent of the world's tuna. But Glenn Hurry says he doesn't believe the closed door meetings affected the decisions made.

GLENN HURRY: I think it was pretty reasonable process and what they'd tried to do was take it out of a 450 to 500 person meeting and get that into a smaller working group so that they could actually get some agreement on it and you had kind of a smaller group working together but even that smaller group probably had a hundred people in it most of the time which is really difficult to negotiate text and get a result.

Glen Hurry says the Tuna Commission will be reviewing the measures over the next few weeks and will start a process to ensure that better results are reached at next year's meeting.