9 Dec 2015

Missed opportunities at Tuna Commission

8:05 pm on 9 December 2015

There have been mixed results for Pacific Island states from five days of exhaustive talks at the annual meeting for the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, or Tuna Commission.

Squaring off at the Bali meeting against powerful distant water fishing countries, Pacific nations brought proposals to the meeting to reduce catches and curb illegal fishing.

Among the successes, members agreed on a target reference point for skipjack tuna - the Pacific's most valuable stock.

Frozen albacore tuna offloaded in Lami, Fiji

Frozen albacore tuna offloaded in Lami, Fiji Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

However there were several areas where the commission could not gain accord.

The commission failed to reach the reduced catch target sought by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency for the commercially important albacore tuna species.

The FFA's deputy director-general Wez Norris said the organisation was deeply disappointed.

The commission also failed to push through measures designed to curb illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, such as increased surveillance and a ban on tuna transhipment in the high seas.

Mr Norris described it as worrying that distant water states were more interested in defending the operational convenience of their vessels than putting in place proper management measures and enforcing those management measures.

A purse seiner in Majuro Atoll off-loads skipjack tuna to a waiting carrier vessel for transshipment to a cannery.

A purse seiner in Majuro Atoll off-loads skipjack tuna to a waiting carrier vessel for transshipment to a cannery. Photo: RNZI/Giff Johnson

He also expressed dismay at members blocking a measure on port-based initiatives, including inspection procedures and minimum training standards for inspectors.

Bigeye tuna is the species of most conservation concern to the Pacific as it has been assessed at 16 per cent of its historic stock size.

Pac News reports that Pacific nations were not able to convince distant water fishing nations such to cut the catch.

Small Island nations losing out to distant fishing nations

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement said small island nations had lost out to distant water fishing nations.

For the PNA, an issue of contention centred on limiting Fish Aggregating Devices, which are floating platforms used to attract fish near the bottom of the ocean.

The devices were banned for up to four months of the year as a measure to preserve stocks of bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tuna.

Yellow fin tuna waiting to be weighed and then off loaded in Avarua on Rarotonga.

Yellow Fin Tuna Photo: Marty Melville / AFP

But Tuvalu's Minister of Natural Resources, Pita Elisala, said the new measures were detrimental to his country's fishery, which already banned the devices for three months of the year.

He said the commission had ignored Tuvalu's request for more stringent controls on longline fishing during the aggregation device ban period, and for prohibiting the transhipment of bigeye tuna.

The chief executive of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, Transform Aqorau, said Tuvalu's plight is indicative of the mistreatment of smaller nations by both the Commission and larger distant fishing nations.

Meanwhile, the director of Global Tuna Conservation at the Washington-based Pew Charitable Trusts, Amanda Nickson, lamented more wasted opportunity at the Tuna Commission meeting.

"The amount of time members spent this week negotiating the future of bigeye tuna, with no resulting management outcomes to end overfishing, has prevented discussions on other important measures that would protect declining shark populations and help enforcement agencies curtail illegal fishing, such as adopting minimum standards for port controls."

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