Bigeye tuna crisis a red flag for Pacific Fisheries-- Time to act, warns FFA

FFA HQ, Honiara, SOLOMON ISLANDS, Thursday 14th August. – The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, FFA is warning that decisive action from all stakeholders in the Pacific’s multi-billion-dollar Fishery must follow new data showing Bigeye Tuna is overfished.
Newly released findings from the annual Science Committee meeting tasked with monitoring tuna stocks in the Western and Central Pacific have already sparked a call from Pacific nations for larger, distant water members of the WCPFC to get behind their membership obligations when it comes to reporting tuna and by-catch data.  
Scientists at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, SPC, produce the stock assessments for Bigeye, Yellowfin, Skipjack and Albacore tuna every two years. For the first time ever their estimate is that Bigeye is being overfished- the most critical category of threatened conservation sustainability. An “overfished” state refers to the number of fish left in the water falling below an agreed ‘Limit Reference Point’’, or LRP. The bigeye LRP, set as a percentage amount of what the population size would be if no fishing were taking place is 20% for the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).  The new assessment provides a range of estimates, with a general conclusion that the stock currently sits around 16%.
“All stakeholders should be giving detailed thought about what it will take to transform the fishery and rebuild this stock,” says FFA Director General James Movick. “All fishing parties to the WCPFC convention should also be living up to their obligations to provide accurate and timely data on fishing activities, and this is where we see that the large distant water fishing nations are not being fully responsible and compliant in reporting their catches on the high seas. Without good data our scientific assessments may be flawed and our capability to ensure that agreed management measures are being complied with by those boats is compromised.”
Bigeye stocks are under heavy fishing pressure from both the longline fishery where adults are the most valuable target species, and from the purse seine fishery where very young fish is an unwanted bycatch.  
“In the past it has been difficult for these different stakeholders to reach agreement on who should bear the brunt of conservation. The reality is of course that both the purse seine and the longline sector need to contribute. In the absence of an integrated package of measures across both fisheries, it will be virtually impossible to bring the stock back,” he says.
The WCPFC Scientific Committee winds up its 10th session today in Majuro, Marshall Islands, but its findings should continue to motivate all WCPFC member countries towards strong conservation and management decisions later this year, says Movick. The requirements and development rights of Small Island Developing States and Territories (SIDS) in the region must remain central in the consideration of those measures, he says.
“WCPFC has always struggled to agree on management measures for bigeye because of the range of interests around the table.   In 2013, WCPFC came close to the mark and agreed on a framework for management, that included measures applying to both purse seiners and longline that could be implemented incrementally up to 2017.  With this new update, we now need even greater reductions. Most of all, whatever we agree, implementation is the key issue.” --ENDS

Note to editors: 

 A stock is overfished when the number of fish (biomass) is below the LRP- Limit Reference Point; 

A stock is experiencing overfishing when the rate that fish are being removed (fishing mortality) is above the LRP- Limit Reference Point.