International scientists admonish WCPFC for failure to prevent overfishing Pacific

Honolulu, HAWAII — An international group of scientists that advises the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council concluded its three-day meeting last Thursday  admonishing the Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission (WCPFC) for its failure to prevent an increase in fleet capacity, fishing effort and catch of tropical tunas in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).


The total 2012 WCPO tuna catch (approximately 2.6 million tons) is the highest on record and includes bigeye tuna, which has been fished for decades at an unsustainable level.


The Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) asked that the Council convey these concerns to the US Delegation to the WCPFC and request that they be discussed in the plenary session of the 10th meeting of the WCPFC to be held Dec. 2 to 6, 2013, in Cairns, Australia. The WCPFC is an international regional fishery management organization, to which the US is a party. It coordinates management of highly migratory fish species in the WCPO. 


The SSC reiterated its support of spatially based management approaches to bigeye management in the WCPO. The SSC recommended that the Council advocate that this approach be incorporated in conservation and management proposals to the WCPFC by the US Delegation.


Currently, the WCPFC conservation and management measures for tropical tuna rely largely on quotas for longline fisheries, which catch adult bigeye tuna for the sashimi-market, and on fishing day limits for purse-seine fisheries, which target skipjack tuna for the canneries but catch juvenile bigeye as a non-target species, especially when using fish aggregation devices (FADs). The US Delegation has gone on record proposing a six-month closure on purse-seine FAD fishing. 


The SSC reviewed the proposal being put forward by Japan, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) members and the Philippines to the WCPFC, which would reduce bigeye catches for the longline fishery, including a 45 percent reduction in the current WCPO bigeye quota for the Hawaii longline fishery. The current WCPO quota for the Hawaii fishery has been in place since 2009 and has caused the fishery to shut down early twice, once for two days and once for 40 days. Should the proposed additional reduction in longline bigeye catches move forward, the Hawaii longline fishery for bigeye tuna could close as early as July. 


The SSC noted that the proposed cuts to the Hawaii longline fishery (under the PNA-Philippines-Japan proposal) would have substantial economic impacts without noticeable benefits to bigeye stock status. The Hawaii longline fishery fishes outside of the core tropical area where the majority of bigeye fishing mortality occurs, and there is little movement of bigeye from the equatorial area to northern central Pacific waters where the Hawaii longline fishery operates. The health of the bigeye stock targeted by the Hawaii longline fishery is evidenced by the stable trend in bigeye catch per unit effort and average size in the Hawaii longline fishery.


The SSC discussed several other issues, including the following, among others:


•            Effects of FADs on Fish Migrations: Tagging studies conducted in Hawaii have shown strong retention and vulnerability of tuna at FADs and natural aggregation areas. The SSC recommended the Council staff collect the reports of various Hawaii tuna tagging projects and summarize and disseminate the findings in an accessible format for the public. During public comment, local Hawaii fishermen voiced their belief that FADs, especially the private FADs set in deeper offshore waters, take away tuna that otherwise might have appeared closer to shore or at traditional fish koa (aggregation areas).


•American Samoa: SSC member Dr. Domingo Ochavillo, from the American Samoa Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, reported that the National Marine Sanctuary in American Samoa has expanded from a single site in Fagatele Bay to include bottom fishing sites and pelagic areas. There is currently no long term monitoring project in place for these sites.


American Samoa is experiencing a crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak and has implemented an eradication project. The coral cover in American Samoa is among the highest in the Pacific and it has increased since a crown-of-thorns outbreak in 1978, but some sites have tsunami damage and coral disease.


Source: Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council media release

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