Apr 06, 2020 Last Updated 3:57 AM, Apr 6, 2020

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.

 

By NETANI RIKA in Port Moresby

THE world has gathered in Madrid, Spain to discuss the existential threat which climate change presents to the environment through rising temperatures and melting ice.

Halfway across the globe, the guardians of Pacific fisheries are seated in an indoor stadium to discuss the impact climate change has had on the region’s most important resource – tuna.

The Pacific accounts for roughly half of the global tuna market which is worth around $USD42 million each year. Fishing companies were paid $USD10 billion for 4.99 million tons of tuna landed on docks around the world in 2014.

That product was worth $USD42 billion after processing.  It has been suggested that the total value of landed tuna to the Pacific is $USD5 billion and $USD22billion after processing.

Much of the Pacific’s tuna stocks of Skipjack, Yellowfin and Big Eye are caught between Papua New Guinea in the West and Kiribati in the East.

But as the Pacific Ocean grows warmer, it is expected that the tuna will begin to move further East.

PNG Fisheries Minister, Dr Lino Tom, told local journalists that Skipjack and Yellowfin stocks in the country’s EEZ could drop by as much as 37 per cent by 2050.

That would mean a market worth $USD128.8 million in 2016 could bring in only $USD81.1 million by the middle of this century.

Studies by the Food and Agriculture Organisation show that Skipjack and yellowfin which make up the vast majority of the Pacific catch tend to shift from PNG and the Federated States of Micronesia towards Kiribati and Tuvalu.

But if global temperatures continue their steady rise and an estimate two to three-degree Celsius increase over current levels, even Kiribati and Tuvalu can see the impact on their stocks.

Tuvalu Fisheries Minister, Alapati Taupo, was forthright in his views on rising temperatures.

“As the climate warms, oceanic conditions change to provide more frequent and eventually permanent El Nino conditions,” Taupo said at the 16th Regular Session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

“In the short term this is good for Tuvalu. There is more tuna in our waters in El Nino years. In the longer term … the main fishing areas are expected to move out of our EEZ and into the Eastern High Seas pocket and eventually into the Eastern Pacific.’’

That would mean a huge loss of income to a small country heavily reliant on tuna for its foreign revenue through licences to fishing vessels which raked in $USD24 million.

Tuvalu’s tuna sales have been estimated at a further US$198 million.

With the looming threat of tuna migration due to warmer oceans, Taupo was clear about the effects of such a move.

“Climate change is not a problem that Tuvalu has caused but we are going to suffer the effects,” he said.

But for Tuvalu the tuna migration is only part of the problem faced by its fishery due to climate change. Rising temperatures means rising sea levels.

“If the islands and reefs go completely under water, we may lose our EEZs,” Taupo said.

“Our EEZ is defined by the edge of the reef at low tide. As sea levels rise these baselines move back, reducing the size of our EEZ.

“Warmer water and higher acidity of seawater will result in the destruction of our coral reefs which are the habitat for most of our important inshore food fish.

“It may also affect the success of fish breeding and the growth of shellfish.’’

Tuvalu estimates that on the current trend, production of inshore fishery will fall by 65 per cent by 2100 because of climate change.

Taupo suggested that current global arrangements be changed to prevent what he described as an injustice.

“In fisheries terms this would mean the boundaries of our EEZ are locked in and not changed as a result of climate change-induced sea level rise,” he said.

This would mean Tuvalu’s right to harvest tuna could be retained on the high seas when the fish moved.

Tuvalu has started discussions on changes to EEZ boundary definitions under United Nations conventions, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Driven by rising sea levels and global warming, Tuvalu will press for its boundaries to be defined by degrees of latitude and longitude rather than geographical features which may be lost under water.

The need for clearly defined national borders to exist well after the possible disappearance of the Pacific’s smaller nations is a matter of concern for many.

And some small island developing states believe that there is a need for greater attention to this issue by international organisations and countries outside the Pacific.

Kiribati’s Fisheries Minister, Tetabo Nakara, recognised the threat faced by his island neighbour.

“Climate change is an existential threat to our region, and directly threatens our livelihoods, security and wellbeing. We need action on climate change to be a primary concern in all fields (aspects),” Nakara said.

While Nakara’s call for action was directed at the WCPFC and the Forum Fisheries Agency, he deftly linked the fisheries climate change problems to COP25 in Madrid.

“It is fitting that on the other side of the world in Madrid, the 25th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC is convening this week.  How wonderful it would be if this commission could adopt the climate change resolution as a contribution of the WCPFC to addressing this matter,” he said.

On two sides of the world, leaders meet this week, their discussions linked by climate change.

If the COP 25 meeting in Madrid does not take credible steps to reduce global warming, efforts by the WCPFC delegates to control and maintain tuna stocks may be in vain.

By NETANI RIKA in Port Moresby

CLIMATE change threatens Tuvalu’s national survival through direct impact on tuna stocks.

The small atoll state told members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission that tuna was its most important natural resource.

Tuvalu’s Fisheries Minister, Alapati Taupo, told the WCPFC’s 16th Regular Session that they must address equitable solutions to climate change impacts on tuna.

“The climate change emergency is an issue that threatens the very survival of Tuvalu as a country; and the evidence now shows that it will have severe impacts on our most important natural resource – the tuna resources of our Exclusive Economic Zone,’’ Taupo said.

“Tuvalu urges WCPFC to take a strong stand on the issue of climate change.’’

Forum Fisheries Agency Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, recognised calls from Tuvalu and other member states for stronger action on climate change.

“Members are calling for stronger action by the (Western and Central Pacific Fisheries) commission, specifically looking at full recognition of impacts of climate change on fisheries, food security and livelihoods,” Tupou-Roosen said.

“(We must ensure) that the commission actively considers those impacts and they deliberate on the development of conservation management issues, again looking at the carbon footprint estimate.’’

Tupou-Roosen said member-states had called for a strong course of action.

“We must meet this challenge head on - it's clear from our leaders,’’ she said.

“So, we will need to look at what it is in (our) activities and provide options for how to offset or reduce the carbon footprint.’’

Tuvalu indicated that it would be open to further discussion in an effort to reach consensus on issues including climate change.

“It is in all our interests to reach agreement and strengthen the management of our oceanic fisheries resources,” Fisheries Minister Tupou said. 

Forum Fisheries Commission Chair, Eugene Pangelinan, said it was important to have a starting point on discussions.

“I think we need to understand and climate change is happening to us and as the minister highlighted, we need to start the process here,” Pangelinan said.

Push for control on tuna stocks

AS the dust clears from the August negotiating session between American and Pacific island fisheries representatives, two things are clear: The islands gained a solid financial deal including important conservation measures for 2016 and, in the absence of an unlikely major shift in Pacific negotiating strategy, next year will be the last for the nearly 30-year fishing treaty that has been a primary vehicle for United States government diplomacy in the region.

Since the access and financial terms of the fishing treaty lapsed in June 2013, the U.S. and the Pacific Islands have been on a series of one-year or 18-month interim arrangements to maintain the treaty, which gives U.S.-flagged vessels access to the region while they have attempted to reach agreement on a longer-term extension of the treaty. That now looks next to impossible, a development that is good or bad depending on which side of the table you sit.

The talks in Brisbane in early August started with the U.S. side saying it was distressed that Pacific island negotiators were increasingly discounting “the significant contribution that the U.S. government has historically made to the overall treaty package” and were discounting the value of the treaty itself.

It ended with the U.S. saying it would agree to a one-year extension in 2016 on terms favourable to the islands to secure access for its fleet, but would pull out of the treaty the following year. In the meantime, Parties to the Nauru Agreement CEO Dr. Transform Aqorau hailed the one-year transitional arrangement for U.S. vessels for 2016 as a “positive development reflecting the value of rights-based fisheries management” for the Pacific islands. The contradictory U.S. and PNA viewpoints underline the rift between the Americans’ attempt to maintain a treaty crafted 30 years ago in the face of PNA’s newly dominant role in managing the skipjack tuna fishery.

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