Distant nations block tuna conservation measures
9 December 2007
“Despite five days of intensive negotiations with fishing nations to reduce fishing pressure on bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks, efforts to reach agreement on conservation and management measures have failed,” Fisheries Minister Jim Anderton said today.
He was expressing his frustration at the lack of progress made at the fourth annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), held in Guam from the 3rd to the 7th of December.
At the meeting a number of distant water fishing nations argued the need to wait for additional scientific research on the stocks before they could commit to any conservation action.
“This ignores the consistent advice from the Commission’s Science body that overfishing on bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks is already occurring, and that urgent action is required to maintain these stocks above globally-accepted standards for sustainable limits,” Jim Anderton said.
Jim Anderton is the current Chair of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Committee and he went on to say, “Healthy tuna fisheries are the economic engine for most Pacific Island countries and, for some, these fisheries are their greatest source of income. But Pacific tuna fisheries have reached a critical point. The scale and intensity of fishing is ever increasing. If we don’t address things now, the whole Pacific region will face huge economic issues in the long-term.
“The highly migratory tuna fisheries in the Pacific region are worth about $NZ3 billion per year. They are probably the only remaining healthy tuna stocks left on the planet, as most high-value tuna and tuna-like fish stocks in other oceans of the world are now seriously depleted or fast heading that way.
“Pacific members had tabled conservation and management proposals in advance of the meeting and went prepared to discuss them in good faith. It’s simply disingenuous of the non-Pacific fishing nations to say there is not enough information on which to base conservation measures,” Jim Anderton said.
The aim of the proposed measures is to reduce the impact on juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tuna from large purse-seining vessels, and to reduce catches of adult bigeye tuna by longline vessels. Limitations on fish aggregation devices (rafts that attract fish) would help reduce the amount of juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tunas caught.
Catch retention measures had also been proposed, meaning all tunas that are caught would have to be reported and landed. This would give a more complete picture of how many juvenile bigeye and yellowfin are being caught.
Jim Anderton said, “New Zealand supported the proposal developed by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency member countries which was developed in direct response to the advice from the Commission’s Scientific Committee calling for a 25 percent reduction in bigeye tuna catch and 10 percent reduction in yellowfin catch to keep the level of catch sustainable.
“I’m disappointed this proposal wasn’t adopted. New Zealand believes cuts are necessary if we are to safeguard the future of these fisheries.”
There were some successes at the meeting. New Zealand took the lead in challenging applications from countries outside the region who were seeking ‘Cooperating Non-member Status’ and the right to come into the Western Pacific region to fish. Applications from El Salvador, Ecuador and Senegal were eventually rejected on the basis of concerns about stock levels, while Belize was admitted but with strong restrictions placed on their fishing activity. “Some of these countries have entered the fishery without knocking first,” Jim Anderton said. “And they are bringing in some of the biggest tuna boats in the world, mostly owned by Spanish companies.
“We were not prepared to let that activity go on unchecked − especially when these vessels are migrating into our region as a result of failed fisheries management in the other oceans of the world. Any future applications will need to demonstrate cooperation and compliance with the WCPFC’s decisions if they are to be successful,” he said.
New Zealand also played a pivotal role in negotiating agreement to a management measure establishing the Commission’s Regional Observer Programme and in progressing the development of the Commission’s vessel monitoring system. Both the observer programme and the vessel monitoring system are fundamental cornerstones of the Commission’s fisheries management framework, and will mean that Conservation and Management Measures can be monitored and enforced.
“Another successful outcome was the agreement on specifications for seabird bycatch mitigation measures,” Jim Anderton said. “This outcome is a step in the right direction to limit seabird mortality in longline fisheries.
“International negotiations are often difficult,” Jim Anderton said. “New Zealand will keep working to ensure these valuable fisheries are managed sustainably.”
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) is responsible for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish stocks in the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). The fourth annual meeting of the WCPFC took place in Guam from 3-7 December 2007.
The Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean was negotiated from 1996 to 2000 and entered into force in June 2004.
The Convention establishes the WCPFC, which had its first meeting in December 2004. New Zealand’s Pacific Fisheries Strategy 2006-2010 identifies engagement within WCPFC as one of the key areas for focus for achieving the strategy’s overall objective of “Sustainable development of Pacific fisheries resources”.
The Pacific Fisheries Strategy stipulates that our medium term strategy for the WCPFC in the period 2006-2010 should be to advocate for management options that:
- ensure sustainable harvests of all tuna species and minimise harm to by-catch species
- advance Pacific economic interests, leading to poverty reduction
- advance New Zealand’s fisheries interests, both domestically and in the wider Pacific region
- protect Tokelau’s unique interests according to its constitutional status
- establish useful legal precedents for protecting New Zealand and Pacific countries’ interests, and for governing Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs)
- consolidate Pacific regional solidarity; and
- allow for effective enforcement and deterrence of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.