Unfinished business remains as WCPFC ends

HAWAII, US, 10 DECEMBER 2010: As the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) annual meeting closed today, FFA members said there was unfinished business that the Commission needed to address next year. While FFA members made advances on some technical issues, there were no decisions made on the critical issues of overfishing of bigeye and yellowfin tuna, catch of whales and dolphins, and adequate severity of punishment for illegal fishing. Pacific Island countries are the custodians of the last remaining healthy tuna stocks in the world and manage a marine area of 30 million square kilometres, supported with technical advice and services from the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA). FFA members participate at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission along with other fishing nations (such as Asian nations, EU and US) to set rules for fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. Much of the debate around overfishing of bigeye tuna centred on proposals that would freeze the number of boats at their current levels in a way that cements the rights of foreign fishing nations that come and fish in the Pacific Islands. FFA members instead pushed for measures that would cut the level of fishing of bigeye tuna, while preserving their rights as small island developing states to develop their fisheries. The Conservation and Management Measure on bigeye and yellowfin tuna needs to be renegotiated at the next WCPFC meeting, December 2011. FFC Chair Sylvester Pokajam said: “FFA members are committed to delivering a package of measures in 2011 that would maintain the critical tuna stocks at sustainable levels. FFA members are proud of the leadership role that we played in 2007 and 2008 that led to the eventual adoption of the current Conservation and Management Measure on bigeye and yellowfin tuna that included some world firsts such as cuts to overfishing, closure of some high seas areas, and controls on Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) and associated catch of juvenile tuna. We urge all WCPFC members to support taking these initiatives forward to develop a measure that will cut overfishing and ensure sustainability of our vital tuna stocks. Other outcomes of this year’s WCPFC include: HIGH SEAS AREAS The Cook Islands proposal for a Special Management Area in the Eastern High Seas Pocket was accepted by the WCPFC. The PNA proposal to seek WCPFC support for their closures of high seas areas was rejected however will go ahead as a condition of licences for fishing in PNA waters. SOUTH PACIFIC ALBACORE WCPFC members agreed to report about their implementation of the South Pacific Albacore conservation and management measure, as proposed by FFA members. ILLEGAL FISHING FFA members pushed for amendments to Conservation and Management Measures to make sure prosecutions and penalties for illegal vessels are to the satisfaction of the state where the vessel committed the offences (this follows the experience of Tonga in 2008 which argued at WCPFC that a foreign fishing nation’s penalties for a vessel found fishing illegally in Tongan waters was not adequate – see http://www.youtube.com/user/pacificislandfish for details of the case). The issue is to be further discussed at the next meeting of the Technical and Compliance Committee (TCC) meeting of the WCPFC in 2011. Another FFA proposal to reduce time limits on presentation for vessels for the vessel blacklist was successful (so vessels can be presented 70 days before the TCC). WHALE SHARKS, WHALES, DOLPHINS FFA and PNA proposals to ban purse seine setting on whale sharks, whales and dolphins was not approved by the other WCPFC members.