The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) aims to ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of the fish stocks, including tuna and sharks, in the western and central Pacific Ocean. The WCPFC has a unique and important responsibility as custodian of the world’s largest tuna fishery in an area covering 20 percent of the Earth’s surface.
Sustaining healthy fisheries in this region requires strong conservation and management actions through joint commitments and strict compliance. Unfortunately, the Commission’s Members, Cooperating Non-members, and Participating Territories, known collectively as CCMs, have been unable to take the actions needed to ensure the sustainability of highly migratory fish populations.
This year’s Commission meeting is critical to the future of bigeye and Pacific bluefin tuna, as well as many shark species.
The Pew Charitable Trusts calls on governments involved in the WCPFC to agree to take the following critical actions:
- End overfishing in tuna fisheries and strengthen management to ensure sustainability.
- Strengthen controls so as to end illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
- Adopt conservation and management measures to protect sharks.
Fast Facts on the WCPFC
The WCPFC is the newest and largest of the tuna regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs).
It is responsible for the open-water fishing that takes place in an area that covers almost 20 percent of the Earth's surface.
A large proportion of the tuna in the Pacific comes from the territorial waters of Small Island Developing States or “Large Aquatic States” as many prefer to be called. These developing countries may have small land areas, but with waters extending 200 miles from shore, they are huge in terms of ocean resources.
WCPFC member governments have committed to valuing the unique social, economic and geographic characteristics of the region. However, there are challenges in balancing the aspirations of developing coastal States with the historical and current fishing by distant-water fleets from the United States, European Union, Japan, Republic of South Korea, and Taiwan (also known as Chinese Taipei).
The 25 members of the WCPFC will gather in Manila from 2-6 December for the Commission's ninth annual meeting to discuss ways to conserve tuna and to consider measures to protect threatened shark species.
Members will also look at ways to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
More than half of the world's tuna catch comes from waters managed by the WCPFC.
According to the scientific body that advises WCPFC members, bigeye tuna are already experiencing overfishing, yellowfin tuna are fished to the limits of sustainability, and skipjack tuna are within sight of this limit. There are currently no science-based catch limits for Pacific bluefin tuna—the only bluefin tuna without catch limits.
The use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) will also be discussed.
FADs are huge floating fishing “rafts” used increasingly by the tuna fishery to attract schools of fish which gather beneath them.
Purse seine fleets set nets around these artificial devices to catch the schools of tuna that gather beneath the FAD, along with other marine species. The use of these devices contributes to marine litter and kills individuals of many other species as “bycatch”, particularly sharks, billfish and juvenile tunas.
- Monitoring Fish Aggregating Devices in the Western and Central Pacific: Possible and Practical
- WCPFC: It's Time to Take Action for Pacific Bluefin Tuna
Although WCPFC has the clearest mandate to protect sharks of any RFMO, it has only taken meaningful action for one shark species.
As in many other fisheries around the world, fishermen using nets and longlines in the Western and Central Pacific region, often catch sharks deliberately or inadvertently.
High demand and prices for shark fins in Asia means that fishermen often have little incentive to release these animals alive.
This year, WCPFC will consider reducing the impact on silky sharks and reducing human interactions with sharks by implementing bycatch mitigation measures such as banning gear used to target and catch sharks. Data show that the existing finning ban is not working, so delegates will consider improving it.
About one-fifth of fish taken from the ocean are estimated to be illegal or unreported.
A study estimated the economic loss from IUU fishing in the western and central Pacific Ocean region to be 21 to 46 percent of the reported catch, which is valued at up to US$1.5 billion a year.
Some States allow their ports to be used by illegal operators, sometimes unwittingly. Others, either on their own or in cooperation with like-minded States, have started to tighten port controls as a means of closing the market to IUU-caught fish.
Until IUU fishing is stopped and Fishing Vessels appropriately identified and tracked, WCPFC's ability to manage and monitor fisheries in the region is likely to be undermined.
Pew's specific recommendations to the tenth session of WCPFC:
Pew calls on WCPFC members to take the following critical actions at the 10th Regular Session of the Commission:
1. End overfishing in tuna fisheries and strengthen management to ensure sustainability
- The WCPFC should adopt interim target and limit reference points for skipjack, albacore, yellowfin, bluefin, and bigeye tuna.
- CCMs also should continue discussions on harvest-control rules that ensure that limit reference points are not exceeded and that targets achieve the desired outcomes.
- The Commission must commit to ending overfishing of bigeye tuna by 2018 by adopting a CMM for tropical tuna that freezes fishing capacity, caps longline catch, and limits the amount of fishing by purse-seiners on fish aggregating devices (FADs) to sustainable levels consistent with the advice from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).
- The CMM must be reviewed and updated next year based on the results of the 2014 stock assessments of bigeye and yellowfin tuna.
- CMs fishing with FADs should be required to submit management plans for these devices, which should include information on the numbers deployed, recovered, and lost, as well as FAD tracking data.
- To ensure that the effectiveness of the new CMM can be measured, all CCMs should provide all relevant data on their fisheries to the Commission.
The WCPFC should recommend that the Northern Committee develop a rebuilding plan for Pacific bluefin tuna for adoption by the 11th Regular Session of the
- WCPFC that includes catch limits that would return the population to 25 percent SSBrecent, F=0 (25 percent of the original population size) within the next 10 years.
2. Strengthen controls against IUU fishing
- The WCPFC should improve the transparency of fishing vessels’ activities by requiring that those licensed to fish in the Convention Area have an IMO number.
Require members to submit the IMO number of any vessel authorized to fish in the Convention Area that already has such a number, and mandate that the number be included in the Commission Record of Fishing Vessels.
- Require that all vessels authorized to fish in the WCPFC Convention Area have an IMO number by Jan. 1, 2015, and that this number be reported in all records and relevant communications involving these vessels. The number should be permanently marked in a visible place on the vessel’s hull.
- The WCPFC should initiate development of a regional scheme of PSMs, adopting at this meeting minimum standards for port inspections and providing adequate support to developing States for implementation.
- The WCPFC should introduce a ban on high seas transshipment until it can be ensured that transshipment operations cannot assist IUU fishing.
3. Adopt CMMs to protect sharks
- It is essential that the WCPFC prohibit the retention on board, transshipment, storage, and landing of silky sharks this year.
- We recommend that the WCPFC mandate the use of non-entangling FADs and prohibit the use of wire leaders, shark lines, and shark bait.
- Given the WCPFC Scientific Committee’s advice to follow the precautionary approach in setting management measures while stock assessment work continues, blue shark catch levels should be limited at this year’s WCPFC meeting to recent year averages.