Forum Fisheries Agency: Bigeye Tuna Stocks Are Being Overfished

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FFA calls on distant water fishing nations to be responsible, report catch

By Emmanuel Samoglou

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, August 18, 2014) – A regional fisheries agency representing 17 Pacific nations has added itself to a growing chorus that is highlighting the distressed levels of bigeye tuna stocks.

The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) has issued a public statement warning that decisive action from all stakeholders in the Pacific’s "multi-billion-dollar" fishery – particularly distant water fishing nations – must follow new data showing bigeye are being overfished.

At the 10th meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) Scientific Committee – held earlier this month in the Marshall Islands – bigeye stocks were grimly assessed at 16 per cent of its original stock size by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

The FFA’s statement said the findings have "... 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 (SPC) produce the stock assessments for Bigeye, Yellowfin, Skipjack and Albacore tuna for the Pacific Community ... for the first time ever their estimate is that bigeye is being overfished- the most critical category of threatened conservation sustainability."

"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."

The FFA says 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 per cent for the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

Bigeye stocks are under pressure from both the longline fishery, where adults are the most valuable target species, and from the purse seine fishery – which targets skipjack but brings in juvenile fish as 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," said Movick.

To rehabilitate the stocks, local conservation group Te Ipukarea Society, along with International NGO Greenpeace, have called for a year-long ban on the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) – which are used by purse seiners.

Previously, Secretary Ben Ponia of the Cook Islands Ministry of Marine Resources said any action should not come at the expense of fishing revenues earned by Pacific Island states.

Earlier this year, Ponia called on distant water fishing nations to put hard limits on fishing activity in the high seas.

And in May, the SPC hit out at the big players for failing to provide catch data to fisheries scientists.

The WCPFC Scientific Committee meeting concluded yesterday, and the FFA says findings should persuade WCPFC member countries to push for 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 adds.

"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."

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