Progress in the Pacific: key updates from WCPFC

Adam Baske reports back on the important whats and whys from the recent WCPFC meeting in Hawaii – and the positive outcomes for tuna management, bycatch species, and fishing communities.

The 2018 tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (RFMO) season has now come to its conclusion.  For IPNLF, the annual meetings we attended took us to all corners of the globe, starting with the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, then the International Committee for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meeting in Dubrovnic, Croatia, and, last week, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Honolulu, Hawaii, where I was joined by my colleague Rocky Pairunan and Ivonne Peleh, representative of the Indonesian one-by-one tuna fisheries association, AP2HI. Throughout the year, we have worked tirelessly with fishery associations, governments and IPNLF Member companies to advance the issues relevant to the world’s one-by-one tuna fisheries.

Overall, I am pleased to report that this year of difficult RFMO meetings has ended on a high note. After a week in Honolulu, where fisheries managers met to negotiate measures relating to the conservation and management of the world’s largest tuna fishery, I have several positive developments to report back on.

Below are the major achievements of the WCPFC Annual Meeting, as they relate to the IPNLF position statement shared with delegates and IPNLF members in advance of the meeting:

IPNLF Priority: Encourage the adoption of an interim target reference point for South Pacific albacore and the establishment of a Science-Management Dialogue.

  • The WCPFC finally adopted a target reference point for South Pacific albacore tuna.  This is a vital step and sets an important precedent for the management of the South Pacific albacore fishery.  Unlike other target reference points, this one has a specific focus on achieving catch rates that allow fisheries in coastal developing states to survive economically.  

  • Regarding the Science-Management Dialogue, the Commission agreed that it needs more dedicated conversation on the development of harvest strategies in the future.  To achieve this, the 2019 Annual Meeting will be one day longer, with the understanding that harvest strategies will feature more prominently on the agenda.

IPNLF Priority: Strengthen the management of tropical tunas, in line with the advice from the Scientific Committee (SC), to avoid overfishing in the future and ensure continued opportunities for one-by-one fisheries, coastal fisheries and communities.

  • The conservation measures for tropical tunas were maintained (bigeye longline catch limits and fish aggregating device (FAD) closure periods for purse seiners).  While this will help ensure healthy stocks, there is mounting concern among some coastal fisheries that more needs to be done. This is in addition to opposing pressure from some parties to relax bigeye catch limits.

IPNLF Priority: Reduce marine pollution, including plastics and FADs that wash ashore and damage coastal habitats by requiring fully biodegradable materials in drifting FAD construction.

  • WCPFC agreed to implement low-risk entangling FADs, in line with rules in place in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and will phase in fully non-entangling and biodegradable FADs in the coming years.

IPNLF Priority: Adopt measures that will effectively reduce bycatch and protect endangered, threatened, or protected species, including sharks, seabirds, cetaceans and sea turtles.

  • Specific measures were adopted on sea turtles and sea birds this year to minimise interactions with these vulnerable bycatch species. FAD entanglements will also likely decrease in the future due to the low entanglement risk FAD designs that were adopted.

IPNLF Priority: Improve Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance in relation to longline fishing activities to reduce illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing through enhanced observer coverage and strengthening at-sea transshipment measures.

  • WCPFC agreed to a 2019 review of the WCPFC transshipment measure to address the challenges with monitoring and enforcing regulations on high seas transshipment activities, particularly on longline vessels.

  • The adoption of the Compliance Monitoring Scheme will allow for continued monitoring and assessment of compliance by all Commission Members with the Commission’s obligations.

Other Positive Developments: IPNLF is very pleased with the adoption of labour standards on fishing vessels, as well as the agreement to enhance developing coastal state meeting participation – both spearheaded by the Pacific Small Islands Developing States.

  • The adoption of the resolution on minimum labour standards for crew on fishing vessels is a first of its kind for the tuna RFMOs. In becoming the first tuna RFMO to consider this issue, WCPFC is demonstrating leadership on fishery worker protection – responding to growing concern from fishers, seafood buyers and consumers. The measure is a positive step towards ensuring that fishing vessels are safe and fair employment platforms.

  • A decision was taken to help increase participation of developing coastal state representatives in the decision-making processes of the Commission. In practical terms, it means the Commission will support the participation of two delegates (up from one) from each WCPFC developing coastal state, recognising the increasing demands of effective WCPFC engagement and the need to build the national level capacity.

While much progress was achieved in Honolulu, there is still room for improvement in several key issue areas.  For instance, further attention to FAD management and FAD recovery, shark bycatch mitigation, increased observer coverage on longliners, and harvest strategy development is needed. In light of the good progress made at this year’s meeting there is reason to believe that WCPFC members will continue to work together in the future to address these issues.

On a final note, I feel that it’s important to acknowledge that none of this would have been achieved without the willingness of countries to work together and the steadfast leadership from the Chair, Rhea Moss-Christian. It takes lots of work behind the scenes and persistence (often years of it!) from member countries as well as those tasked with shepherding these meetings to get measures across the line. This year, the WCPFC was in the fortunate position of having energetic members, supportive NGOs, and a Chair determined to get things done. To all of those involved, IPNLF would like to say WELL DONE!