By NETANI RIKA in Port Moresby
AS Pacific fishing nations end their first week of discussions on tuna, the question of Target Reference Points loom large on the agenda.
What indicators establish the target fishery state that should be achieved and maintained on average?
It’s a point over which there have been hours of debate, argument and conflict at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission for years – often without an amicable solution.
There a four species of tuna in the Western and Central Pacific – Skipjack, Yellowfin, Bigeye and Albacore.
For each species there are Target Reference Points which are part of a larger Harvest Strategy – the actual management of tuna stocks, fishing methods, conservation measures, scientific research.
But it’s the Target Reference Points where members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission which is currently in its 16th Regular Session are often trapped.
The larger fishing nations – China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and the United States – attempt to wriggle free of scientific analysis indicating that stocks must be maintained at no less than 26 per cent of critical biomass.
Every year they challenge the science, push the boundaries and try to bully their way to a larger share of the Pacific tuna catch.
And every year the Pacific nations, guardians of 50 per cent of the world’s tuna stock must struggle to control the fishery, maintain a sustainable stock and make a little money.
If the 16th WCPFC Regular Session in Port Moresby can agree to Target Reference Points, it will then face the challenge of coming to an agreement on harvest strategies.
John Maifiti of the Pacific Island Tuna Industry Association is under no illusions about the enormity of the task at hand.
“We acknowledge the progress that has been made so far with the Target Reference Points for skipjack,” Maifiti said.
“Currently they don’t have any interim TRP for albacore and bigeye and this is what we want the commission to come up with and put it in place.’’
Fiji is one of the countries affected heavily by tuna migration and its Fisheries Minister, Commander Semi Koroilavesau, has spent the last three years pushing for specific reference points for albacore.
As chair of the WCPFC’s Albacore Roadmap Working Group, Koroilavesau indicated today that a TRP outcome would be his prime agenda in the next 12 months.
American Samoa, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Samoa and French Polynesia have indicated their support for Fiji’s approach to secure a Target Reference Point on albacore as soon as economically possible.
Maifiti said one of the issues of contention when attempting to agree on Target Reference Points was the difference between scientific advice and actual results shown by fishing fleets.
“At times the science says one thing, but the catch says something else – it doesn’t match up and that is one of our concerns as well,” Maifiti said.
“Even though all the science says that biologically the tuna species are in a healthy state, the next question to ask is, is there enough fish for the fishing vessels to catch and make enough money. I think that’s the issue we have currently.
“It’s very important that we push for this harvest strategy to manage the fisheries.’’
Maifiti has set those harvest strategies as the industry’s immediate priority.
But he warned that the WCPFC had worked very slowly in this area since an initial work plan was agreed in 2014.
“When they reviewed it in 2017, the progress was very low and they shifted it for another four years and there’s a high chance they won’t agree on compliance when the current measures end in two years,” Maifiti said.
“The important thing for the industry is to put in place the management measure for the four key resources – skipjack, bigeye, yellowfin and albacore.’’
Maifiti said the issue of harvest strategy was important for the sustainability and viability of the fisheries.
“It’s important for the fisheries for the commission to come up with a harvest strategy. They are the ones mandated to manage fisheries,” he said.
“Inside the Exclusive Economic Zones and at the national level the Pacific countries already have some strong management measures in place – control harvest measures.
“But on the high seas where the commission is responsible, that’s where we don’t have any management system. There’re no harvest strategies to have harvest control in place to measure fisheries.’’
Maifiti said the Forum Fisheries Agency had pushed for some time for concrete measures but Distant Water Fishing Nations – keep pushing back.
At the moment the industry doesn’t feel the impact of the current stock status because they are highly subsidised from the countries. Like now the cost for them is less than for Pacific fleets.
Early indications are that the European Union will be one of the WCPFC parties which will push back on the albacore measures and reference points.
By NETANI RIKA, Port Moresby
CIVIL society groups have called for limits to tuna caught in the Pacific and better regulations around fish management.
In a joint submission to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission 16th Regular Session, CSOs submitted a joint statement that urged delegates to continue progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Kepa Kumilgo of WWF Papua New Guinea said the WCPFC session provided an opportunity for members to establish sustainable limits for yellowfin and bigeye tunas.
”(It also helps to) improve transparency of commission meetings among other priorities, in particular SDG 14, which aims to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources,” Kumilgo said.
He said the CSO community was engaged in the meeting because of concerns that policy makers failed to consider the views and needs of local communities when discussing tuna in particular and fisheries in general.
The CSO Joint Statement highlighted the need for binding measures to address safety and basic human rights of fishing crew and marine pollution.
It also called for increased transparency, and accountability of the WCPFC.
WWF Pacific’s Sustainable Fisheries and Seafood Programme Manager, Duncan Williams, said the CSO community would continue to support the work of regional fisheries management organisations.
“Organisations such as the WCPFC are mechanisms for delivering global priorities and commitments,” Williams said.
“We support the work of the Commission as it strives to achieve SDG 14 priorities in particular effectively regulating harvesting and overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and implementing science-based management plans in order to replenish fish stocks in the shortest time feasible.
“This is particularly important for Pacific Island countries whose livelihoods are dependent on the oceans.”
WWF Head of Delegation, Bubba Cook said CSOs represented “important stakeholders in the tuna fisheries management process, carrying the views of under-represented constituencies before decision makers to ensure that the concerns of their communities are carefully considered.”
The CSO community statement called for better regulation of trans-shipments at sea on the high seas, more observers on longline fishing vessels and improved management of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs).
The FADs are usually man-made objects used to attract ocean-going fish such as marlin and tuna. These are often made of buoys or floats attached to the ocean floor.
Fish congregate under the FADs which are then targeted by fishing fleets.
The WCPFC meeting at the Sir John Guise Indoor Stadium will end on December 11 and is attended by about 300 delegates including industrial fishing nations.