The Philippines Must Lead on Management, Says Pew Environment Group, As Manila Prepares for Major Regional Fisheries Meeting

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As members of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) prepare to meet in Manila from 2-6 December 2012, the Pew Environment Group is urging the Philippines to take the lead and push for greater controls on tuna fishing vessels.

The WCPFC meets annually to decide rules on fishing for tuna, sharks and other migratory fish species in the western and central Pacific Ocean. This year, the Philippines will host the meeting, and member governments will discuss creating a new conservation and management measure for tuna, as well as several measures related to sharks.

Bigeye tuna is overfished, according to scientists, and yellowfin tuna also needs management procedures to prevent overfishing. The Philippines catches more tuna than any other country except Japan and thus has a decisive role and responsibility in securing the future for Pacific tuna.

This commission, in addition to deciding conservation measures for tuna, also has responsibility for sharks. Purse-seine vessels fishing for tuna under the management of the WCPFC are still allowed to set their nets around whale sharks, which often leads to the sharks' deaths. This fishing method is sometimes used because tuna tend to aggregate under whale sharks and other large objects floating near the surface.

 


“The Philippines now has the opportunity to be a leader by pushing to protect whale sharks, the gentle giants, for the benefit of economically valuable local ecotourism. Worldwide, these sharks generate at least US$47.5 million in tourism revenue each year, with whale sharks in some locations being worth more than US$2 million annually over the course of their lives,” said Elizabeth Wilson, who works on shark conservation for the Pew Environment Group.

"This year's meeting is critical for the future of bigeye and Pacific bluefin tuna and many shark species in the western and central Pacific Ocean."

-Gerry Leape, senior officer, international policy

In addition, the purse-seine industry's increasing dependence on drifting fishing aggregating devices (FADs), which attract tuna to a single location, is an emerging issue that must be urgently addressed. Filipino purse-seiners are some of the world's biggest users, and refer to FADs as payaos.

Amanda Nickson, who directs work on tuna conservation for the Pew Environment Group said, “We urge the government of the Philippines and those countries that rely on drifting FADs to take responsibility and communicate how, when and in what numbers they are used.”

“All WCPFC member governments must be willing to move from their current positions to ensure that clear, multiyear action is taken. This year's meeting is critical for the future of bigeye and Pacific bluefin tuna and many shark species in the western and central Pacific Ocean,” added Gerry Leape, head of Pew's delegation to WCPFC.

The Philippines is the only country allowed to fish in high seas ‘pockets'—areas within WCPFC's jurisdiction but out the exclusive economic zone of specific countries. In exchange, it must report its catch, limit the number of fishing vessels to 36, apply for international fishing permits before entering the pockets, and have onboard observers. This exemption for the Philippines and its compliance will be scrutinized at this month's WCPFC meeting.

In addition, measures will be considered that would reduce the impact of the region's fisheries on vulnerable shark species, such as oceanic whitetip and silky sharks.

More details of priorities for this year's meeting and the issues at stake can be found here.