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.