Tuna Commission confirms: Observer safety to improve, VDS works

   Denarau, Fiji 9 December 2016: The best news coming out of this year’s Western and Central Fisheries Commission annual meeting for the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) is the Commission’s adoption on its last day of meetings today in Fiji of a measure to improve the safety of fisheries observers.

   Other good news from the annual meeting for the PNA is confirmation that the multi-billion dollar skipjack tuna industry is being effectively managed on its target reference point for stock sustainability. “This shows that PNA’s vessel day scheme works,” said PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru. “The VDS limits fishing effort to sustainable levels.”

   Mr. Kumoru also said there was some useful progress on work to develop harvest control strategies and management measures that are expected to lead to improved long-term management of the tuna fishery.

   “Beyond this, progress at this year’s WCPFC annual meeting was limited,” he said.

   The outpouring of anger and call for a vote by island nations when initially the WCPFC was unable to get consensus to adopt a fisheries observer safety measure Friday afternoon demonstrates the determination of the islands to raise the bar for protecting its fisheries observers, said Mr. Kumoru. Not long before the meeting wrapped up Friday, consensus on the observer measure was reached, cancelling the need for a vote.      

   “Observer safety is a huge concern for PNA nations, so we are happy this measure has gone through to protect the men and women who are at the front line of our fishery,” said Mr. Kumoru.

   PNA also expressed disappointment that recommendations for an urgently needed stock rebuilding strategy for northern Pacific bluefin tuna were not offered by the relevant committee to the WCPFC during its annual meeting.

    “The observer safety measure was the biggest development at this year’s annual meeting. And some progress was made for developing harvest control strategies and management measures that will lead to improved management of our tuna fishery,” he said. “These measures take time to develop and the PNA group is looking forward to seeing substantial progress on these, as well as development of the tropical tuna ‘bridging’ measure, over the coming year.”

   While seeing modest progress on management issues, PNA’s CEO said bluntly that “distant water fishing nations are using the WCPFC as vehicle to promote and protect their interests in the fishery. We see this in several big nations’ attempts to get extra fishing days, prevent expansion of our domestic fleets and get access to trade information on the VDS.

   “The challenge we face is continuous attempts by distant water fishing nations to undermine the vessel day scheme that manages fishing effort in our zones, and to obstruct our attempts to expand our fishing fleets,” said Mr. Kumoru. “Solomon Islands head of delegation Ferral Lasi made this clear during the plenary Friday when he objected on behalf of PNA and all Forum Fisheries Agency members to a proposal by Japan to limit vessel capacity, which is simply a move to protect existing distant water fishing fleets.”

   PNA has proven that the VDS is successful in controlling fishing effort by setting fishing day limits, resulting in “excess fishing capacity” being removed from the fishery by market forces, he said.

   The lack of an effective strategy to rebuild northern Pacific bluefin stocks emphasizes the entrenched interests that want to maintain the status quo despite the urgency of the stock level, said Mr. Kumoru. “This lack of action on northern Pacific bluefin tuna — a high seas fishery controlled by distant water fishing nations — shows clearly where the roadblocks to rebuilding and conserving stocks are coming from,” he said.

   PNA members see that a “bottom up approach” has been the most effective for managing the tuna fishery, said Mr. Kumoru. “PNA has effectively used the vessel day scheme (VDS) and licensing conditions for in-zone fishing to control the purse seine skipjack fishery,” he said. “We are implementing a VDS for the longline industry as a first step to improving management of this fishery, and are focused on registration, tracking and study of fish aggregating devices (FADs). We are also expanding use of electronic reporting by fisheries observers that is improving access to catch data for stock assessment and management purposes. All of these initiatives contribute to sustainable use of the fishery. What we want to see is all distant water fishing nations supporting effective management of our high seas fishery — management that is not evident at the present time.”

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