Mixed bag of results leaves room for hope after dismal WCPFC12

8th Dec2015, WCPFC12, BALI--There’s been a mixed bag of results for Pacific negotiators who’ve spent almost three weeks in Bali, Indonesia, defending their interests in the world’s largest tuna fishery. Notably, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, WCPFC, adopted a Conservation and Management measure setting a target reference point for Skipjack, but a similar proposal for South Pacific Albacore did not get across the line.

Noting the overall sense amongst the Pacific bloc of disappointment and frustration at continued failure to get their priorities via FFA/PNA members endorsed by the wider WCPFC membership, head of the FFA WCPFC12 delegation Wez Norris says it’s important to see beyond the WCPFC12 and build on the progress made this week.

As a group, the 17 Pacific Forum Fisheries members came to WCPFC12 with four main priorities, and to differing extents, saw three of those four highest achieved:

Success for Skipjack: The Commission has finally agreed a Target Reference Point for the Skipjack stock.  “This is a fundamental measure for a fundamental stock,” says FFA’s head of delegation Wez Norris. He says the Skipjack TRP paves the way for   more robust management tools, like harvest control rules.  “This is a great pay-off for the hard work and leadership of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement and is of great significance; the measure adopted was the result of merging proposals by FFA members and Japan,” he says. He added differing FFA-Japan views “complicated the negotiations, but the fact that we were able to find ways to reconcile both views highlights the maturity of the relationship between Japan and FFA.”

Harvest Strategies Workplan: The Commission also adopted a workplan that will drive the development of target reference points for other species, and the evolution of harvest strategies from there.  This is important because it provides clear guidance to all stakeholders on directions for management arrangements in the Pacific, and introduces a management system that is globally regarded as best practice for commercial fisheries This will be mainstreamed as a key part of the Commission’s as well as FFA’s work.

Progress on the Compliance Monitoring Scheme: WCPFC12 adopted a revised Compliance Monitoring Scheme, which is the process that the Commission uses to assess the performance of member countries in implementing management measures.  The ongoing development of the scheme is of critical importance to ensure the implementation of commission measures is robust and transparent, but also conducted in a way that is fair and equitable and that adequately respects the special requirements of small island developing states and territories.

No to South Pacific Albacore CMM: There was no movement on setting Target Reference Point for south Pacific albacore.  “In the same way as skipjack, this would have been a fundamental step forward for the Commission, so we are very disappointed with the lack of adoption.  The results of the new stock assessment are threatening, recommending large catch reductions in order to keep the stock at its current levels, let alone to rebuild it to a point that re-introduces profitability.”

Norris says while the reluctance to act by the DWFNs is understandable, “delaying management will only make things worse, so we will have to go back to the drawing board.  This fishery is too important for the participants to the Tokelau Arrangement to simply wait for the Commission to act, so they will continue to develop their own measures to take control of the fishery.”

“In that regard, it was very heartening to see positive movement on one of our high priorities, being some strengthening to the current management measure for albacore.  The compliance committee has been unable to assess implementation of this measure in the past due to a lack of information.  The Commission agreed to some additional data provision requirements that will go some way to addressing this, which is a positive move.  Of course, this falls short of what we were hoping for out of the meeting, but it is the first positive move on the albacore fishery since 2010 despite repeated proposals from FFA members.

High Seas Pockets In a proposal led by Vanuatu, FFA members had proposed to ban transhipment in the four “high seas pockets” and a semi-enclosed area of high seas between Kiribati, Tokelau and Tuvalu.  This was to address what is known to be a serious IUU risk of vessels fishing where they think there is no scrutiny and transhipping that catch with limited monitoring and no particular oversight from flag States.  The lack of endorsement of the proposed measure has left Pacific nations “frustrated that despite the recognition of the IUU risk, flag States continue to place greater priority on the operational convenience of these questionable operators than they do on proper fisheries management.”

Port State MCS measure   FFA members, via Tonga, had tabled a draft Port State MCS measure which was also defeated.  Says Norris: “We have made considerable effort over the last two years to present a proposal that will substantially strengthen port controls in the region, but that avoids some of the issues that FFA members and other CCMs have with the FAO Port States Measure Agreement.  We thank those CCMs that supported our efforts, particularly the EU and US.  We will be interested to talk further with the countries that did not support the measure, but in the meantime we will focus internally on strengthening controls in our own ports.”

Commenting on the failure by the Commission to bridge the gap between purse seine and longline interests amongst the membership, DDG Norris says the stark lack of outcomes belie the immense effort put into the matter. “There was an emerging deal based around a package of elements, but in the end the members simply could not find the right balance between the purse seine and longline fisheries.  This is a fraught issue, and the FFA members have been clear that until the disproportionate burden that they suffer as a result of the current measure are better addressed, it will be impossible to impose further reductions.”

As in previous years, FFA members also added support to or pitched on measures related to Bycatch (seabirds and sharks) and Observer safety and Transhipment.--ENDS