Bali, Indonesia 27 November 2015: Hard limits for purse seine fishing effort on the high seas, a package of management measures for both longline and purse seine fishing fleets, and capacity management for small island developing states to expand domestic fishing fleets are key elements of a plan the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) want to see adopted by next week’s Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) annual meeting in Bali, Indonesia.
Building on its ongoing participation in the WCPFC, PNA nations are again promoting formal proposals for strengthening management of the purse seine and longline industries on the high seas. “The key issue for PNA,” said CEO Dr. Transform Aqorau, “is that there should be linked discussions on purse seine and longline management measures.”
While the WCPFC has failed in its last several annual meetings to adopt management measures needed to establish sustainable levels of tuna harvesting on the high seas, “there seems to be general agreement that something has to be done at this session,” said Dr. Aqorau.
The WCPFC has over 30 members representing both Pacific islands and distant water fishing nations and is responsible for managing fishing on the high seas in the western and central Pacific. The PNA represents eight Pacific nations that control waters where over half of the world’s skipjack tuna is caught.
The PNA’s proposal aims to tighten fishing effort on the high seas by purse seiners, control transshipment of tuna on the high seas by longliners, and improve the effectiveness of fish aggregating device (FAD) closures now in place. PNA supports Forum Fisheries Agency proposals on the table at the WCPFC for strengthening conservation measures for bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack tunas, and for a harvest strategy workplan.
PNA also endorses establishment of a target reference point (TRP) and harvest control rules for skipjack tuna to maintain long-term stability of this currently healthy tuna stock. “I believe we will get the TRP approved for skipjack at the WCPFC meeting,” said Dr. Aqorau. “It’s good management and makes sense. It will be a major achievement and reflects the amount of work that has gone into this over the past two-to-three years.” The TRP establishes a percentage — in the case of skipjack, it is 50 percent of the biomass — below which the stock should not be fished to maintain sustainability of the stock.
But serious concerns remain about the status of bigeye tuna stock, he said.
Dr. Aqorau pointed out that the WCPFC needs to step up to fix the gaps in bigeye tuna management on the high seas. Tuna catches in the eight PNA 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs) have remained stable over the past five years, while catches on the high seas have increased dramatically over the same period for lack of control, he said.
“Effort in the high seas has more than doubled in 2015,” Dr. Aqorau said. “This is particularly troubling since purse seine bigeye catches in the high seas have been growing steadily, while purse seine bigeye catches in EEZs have been declining and catches in archipelagic waters have been steady.” The anticipated large increases in bigeye catch on the high seas during 2015 “can be expected to substantially damage the WCPFC’s bigeye conservation efforts,” Dr. Aqorau said.
While a significant portion of the growth in fishing effort in the high seas is from vessels flagged in PNA nations, this is because of an exemption given to small island developing states (SIDS). “PNA members have repeatedly requested the Commission to exercise proper management of purse seining on the high seas by setting a hard limit for purse seine effort that would apply without a SIDS exemption,” he said. “The Commission has failed to respond and PNA has had no choice but to allow their fleets to have equitable access to the high seas, which is still at a much lower level per vessel than some other fleets.”
On its own initiative, PNA is launching tracking and charging for the use of FADs from January 1, 2016 in PNA zones. “This is a PNA response to the need for alternative measures for bigeye management because of the failure of the Commission to adopt effective measures and the failure of the Commission to address the disproportionate burden transferred to many SIDS by the current bigeye conservation measures in non-compliance with the WCPFC convention,” said Dr. Aqorau.
PNA has also endorsed a measure for WCPFC action to fix the abuse of capacity limits that have resulted in PNA members being blocked from adding new purse seine vessels to their domestic fleets. For PNA members to meet their fisheries development aspirations, eliminating restrictions on their ability to construct or purchase vessels for their domestic fleets is a high priority. “PNA is ready to work on capacity measurement when the abuse of the current capacity limits is fixed,” said Dr. Aqorau.
Other important issues the PNA will support include initiatives by Marshall Islands and Nauru to improve safety and security of fisheries observers who collect data on board purse seiner and longline fishing vessels; and proposals from the Marshall Islands and the Forum Fisheries Agency to tighten or ban transshipment of tuna on the high seas by longline vessels.