The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, or WCPFC, gathered for its 12th annual meeting at the beginning of December with a full slate of issues to tackle. Over 600 people from more than 40 countries made their way to Bali, Indonesia, to debate the future management of the world’s largest tuna fishery, worth over USD 6 billion per year. IPNLF’s Fisheries Development Director, Martin Purves, and our Country Director for Indonesia, Andrew Harvey, joined me at the meeting, and together we encouraged progress on our priority issues and met with project partners and members in attendance. A difficult week of negotiations between the 26 member nations resulted in a mixed bag of outcomes.
Topping the list of positive management improvements was the newly adopted target fishing level for skipjack tuna – the region’s largest and most valuable fishery. All countries agreed that fishing should not expand beyond current levels to ensure the population remains healthy, and the fishery itself remains profitable. IPNLF worked closely with our partners on the ground in Indonesia as well as with our membership to encourage the adoption of these target reference points, and we are thrilled with this outcome.
These positive outcomes from the WCPFC meeting hold particular relevance for the fisheries and partners in Indonesia that are supported by IPNLF. Indonesia accounts for some 17% or 483,000 tonnes of the total WCPFC catch of 2.86 million tonnes, and the nation’s pole-and-line and handline fisheries have embarked on a Fishery Improvement Program (FIP), as a pathway to obtaining Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.
An independent FIP review commissioned by IPNLF in 2015 revealed the absence of regional harvest control rules in the Pacific Ocean to be a significant issue when trying to achieve MSC certification. The decisions taken at the WCPFC meeting will therefore go a long way towards addressing this potential barrier, and moving the fisheries in Indonesia closer towards full certification.
On the downside, the WCPFC was once again unable to curb overfishing of bigeye tuna. With only an estimated 16% of the population remaining, the Commission’s paralysis on the issue is of considerable concern to many member countries, observer organisations, and even the Chair of the WCPFC.
Likewise, little progress was made to improve the management of drifting fish aggregating devices (dFADs) used by purse seine vessels. Efforts to strengthen port controls to fight illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing also fell short, as did discussions to reduce shark by-catch.
Another disappointment was the failure to establish a target level of fishing for South Pacific albacore tuna – a fishery that is already economically unviable in many Pacific island countries, and could be on a trajectory towards unhealthy biological levels. While there was a proposal on the table that would have improved both the biological and economic outlook for the fishery, unfortunately delegates could not come to an agreement.
Despite the lack of action on some key issues facing the fishery and some major issues being kicked down the road for future meetings to resolve, delegates left Bali with a number of positive outcomes achieved. This mixed outcome is not uncommon in the realm of international fisheries management, but the ongoing inability of the WCPFC to address some pressing management challenges means IPNLF, our members, and the coastal fishing communities we work with will need to continue to push for important management reforms.
We are extremely thankful for the work of all of our members that wrote letters to their WCPFC representatives, encouraged action through media channels, and joined country delegations. Your engagement matters, and contributed to some very positive outcomes for the one-by-one fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean this year.
It is also important to highlight that this year’s meeting was opened by Indonesia’s Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, Hon. Susi Pudjiastuti, who reaffirmed her goal to ensure Indonesia’s tuna fisheries remain sustainable, profitable, traceable and equitable.