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Pacific And Global Fishing Powers To Tackle Declining Tuna Stocks

Nadi, Fiji- With two of the main commercial species of tuna at critical levels this week’s meeting of the multi-national body that decides fishing rules in the Pacific is expected to be tense.

WCPFC Chairperson Rhea Moss-Christian

Members of the Western Central and Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) kick off their annual meeting in Fiji today with the more than 500 delegates getting the full welcome during the opening of the week-long meeting. Pacific and global fishing powers will discuss conservation and management measures for five species of tuna, sharks and other marine species in the world’s biggest fishery.

Pacific Bluefin tuna and bigeye tuna are in the most trouble: down to just 2.6 per cent and 16 per cent of pre-fishing stocks and still being overfished.

The 8-nation Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) group, whose waters produce more than 50 per cent of the world’s canning tuna, urged WCPFC to take a more stringent action on high seas management, especially on the longline fishery.

Delegates of the Western Central and Pacific Fisheries Commission get the full traditional welcome in Fiji.

The PNA nations, all of which are small Pacific Island nations, also called the Commission adopt a “harvest control strategy” for tuna and a bridging measure to extend and improve an existing Tropical Tuna Conservation Management Measure that expires at the end of 2017.

“Well the Commission’s mandate is really to control and to put measures on the high seas. The EEZs come under the coastal states and mostly fishing within coastal states had been controlled,” PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru told Pacific reporters Thursday.

“You take for example the PNA group, we have the purse seiners, almost under our control. We know how many boats are there, what they are catching, how many days they are out fishing. But if you look at the high seas, we don't have any sort of controls in the high seas,” Mr Kumoru said.

Rhea Moss-Christian, WCPFC chair said the commission has already been focusing its efforts on high seas management and cautioned against expecting too much from a body with such diverse and divergent interests.

“ The reality is that we have to be very realistic; we have to be selective about issues we can tackle in a very short timeframe and the PNA call for action on the high seas is just one of many calls from within the Commission membership for the Commission to take action,” she said

“The Commission will certainly look at this and other issues that members have prioritized for [this] week,” she said in response to PNA’s call.

Christian said that in this year’s meeting, the goal of the commission is to agree on rebuilding bigeye stocks, improving safety measures for independent observers on fishing boats and improving management of tropical tunas beyond 2017.

The commission will also push for a harvest strategies for each tuna species and for management and conservation measures for sharks.

Environmental groups called on the commission to exercise political will to address declining tuna stocks.

“The Western and Central Pacific Ocean and those who depend on its fish face a growing crisis. The WCPFC is failing to deliver on its most basic objectives of ensuring fisheries for future generations, Greenpeace said in a statement.

However Christian said that the “lack of political will is probably an unfair statement.”

I see a lot of concerted effort from members. They all go about raising the issues and moving them through but this is just the nature of a multilateral negotiation. And WCPFC is no different from any other multilateral negotiation but I would say that what makes us unique is just the number of small island developing states and coastal states interests that factor into the decisions,” Christian stated.

Membership of the WCPFC includes all the nations that fish in the Western and Central Pacific and the resource-owning Island states.

That includes Australia, China, Canada, Cook Islands, European Union, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, Republic of Korea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Chinese Taipei, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States of America, Vanuatu.

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