IPNLF attends WCPFC Scientific Committee

How many tuna are out there? Are shark populations healthy? How much fishing is sustainable? What are the broader ecosystem impacts of different fishing gears?
Adam Baske, IPNLF Policy & Advocacy Advisor

These are all critical questions for fisheries managers, but they are very difficult ones to answer. IPNLF’s Adam Baske, Policy and Advocacy Special Advisor, recently attended an international meeting that sought to address these questions, and more, as they relate to the western and central Pacific tuna fishery. 

Officially called the 11th Scientific Committee Meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, the gathering brought together more than 200 fisheries scientists and managers tasked with developing scientific recommendations to end or prevent overfishing for tuna and other highly migratory species that roam the waters of the western and central Pacific Ocean. This is no easy task considering the expansive area (over 20% of the Earth’s surface!) and the difficulties associated with there being limited data on both what the fish and fishers are doing. 

After more than a week of presentations and discussions, a number of points resonated with IPNLF: 

  • The world’s two largest pole­and­line fisheries operate in the western and central Pacific – Japan and Indonesia. There are also a number of smaller pole­-and-­line, troll, and hand­line fisheries in the region.
  • Pole­-and-­line tuna fisheries are worth more than $500 million in the region, and mainly target skipjack tuna.
  • Tuna populations are not all healthy across the western and central Pacific Ocean. Bigeye and Pacific bluefin tuna are overfished, while skipjack, yellowfin, and albacore stocks are at or above sustainable levels.
  • Southern Albacore is biologically healthy (not overfished and not subject to overfishing), but the fishery is not operating at economic efficiency because of the large fleet size, relatively low fish prices, and relatively high operating costs. This suggests that managers should aim to keep a relatively large population in the water to keep this fishery profitable.
  • The coastal fisheries of Japan are catching less skipjack tuna than before, but there is no conclusive evidence that the overall range of the skipjack tuna population is shrinking. Local oceanographic research and additional tagging could help illuminate why this is occurring.
  • Progress continues on the development of reference points and harvest strategies for the primary tuna species (here’s a good primer). The meeting provided input to a workplan to keep this work moving.
  • According to a study by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, there may be too many purse seine vessels targeting skipjack. In other words, the current fleet size is too big, and if fishing continues at the current rate, then fishing will reach unsustainable levels.
  • Data limitations continue to impair scientists’ ability to effectively monitor stocks, improve assessments, evaluate bycatch issues, and assess the effectiveness of management measures.
  • Current measures to reduce shark bycatch should be improved to more effectively reduce catches of vulnerable shark species. 

With more than 50% of the global tuna supply coming from this region, it is critical that the latest science plays a central role in the overall management of the resource and the broader marine ecosystem. IPNLF will be working with our Members, governments, industry, and other NGOs in the coming months to ensure the latest scientific advice is incorporated into management measures at the annual WCPFC meeting in December.

IPNLF will be on the ground for the annual meeting – our first WCPFC Commission meeting as official observers – and look forward to raising the profile of one­-by­-one fisheries and their critical role to fishing communities throughout the Pacific. 

One-by-one tuna fishing. Photo © Paul Hilton & IPNLF