Pacific tuna face risky fisheries meeting

Posted on 27 November 2008
Bigeye Tuna for sale at the fish market in Hawaii.
© WWF / Lorraine Hitch
Yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna fisheries in the western and central Pacific also face collapse if a forthcoming management meeting doesn't dramatically change the way they are harvested, WWF warned today.

The call follows this week's disastrous decision by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) which discarded recommendations from its own scientists and a high level internal review to continue with what the review labelled “a travesty of fisheries management” widely regarded as “an international disgrace”.

“We have to face the possibility that fishing nations will drive the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) will come up with a similar outcome when it meets in Busan, Korea, in December,” said Peter Trott, Fisheries Program Manager for WWF-Australia.

“With tuna, it seems we are just not learning – we have lost the fisheries of the North Sea bluefin, the southern Bluefin, the West Atlantic bluefin collapsed and is failing to recover and the Mediterranean Bluefin is now well on its way to collapse with rampant legal and illegal overfishing allowed to go on.”

In 2006 scientists estimated that overfishing of bigeye tuna, on the IUCN Red List as “vulnerable” since 1996, was occurring in the western and central Pacific, with a high probability it had been occurring since 1997. They have also warned that urgent action needed to be taken on overfishing of yellowfin tuna in the region.

“This is not just a warm and fuzzy call to preserve a magnificent open ocean species, it’s about preserving the world’s most valuable tuna fisheries with a landed value of close to US$4 billion in 2007 and a market value of US$6-8 billion every year,” said Trott.

“It’s a fishery that adds considerably to the economies of many of the developing Pacific Island nations in the region and to the livelihoods of millions in the region known as the Coral Triangle.”

The future of the tuna fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries will be decided at its commission meeting during December 8 -12 this year.

For the first time the commission will seriously consider management measures to reduce the take of bigeye and yellowfin tuna by 30 per cent. These measures include closing large parts of the fishery to purse seiners and the banning of fish attractant devices from July to September every year.

“It’s a reflection of how dramatic the situation has become that the Commission has got to this point,” Mr Trott said.

“It’s beyond environmental concerns, it is about commercial self-preservation.”

WWF-Australia strongly supports the call for these closures from July to September but also wants the commission to ramp up catch documentation methods.

“Scientists have been calling for large reductions in bigeye tuna catch for over a decade,” Mr Trott said.

“But on past performance the Commission is, at best, slow to respond to such advice and at worst shows little spine when it comes to standing up to the pressure from fishing nations who continue to decimate tuna stocks.”

“Such wavering could lead to the commercial extinction of the bigeye and yellowfin tuna fishery in the Western and Central Pacific if effective management action isn’t adopted at this year’s Commission meeting.”

Improved catch documentation can also identify the size of the illegal tuna catch in the region which is estimated to in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Timely documentation of the legal catch can be measured against fish sold at markets and used to determine how much illegal tuna is being taken.

“If the Commission doesn’t move fast on restoring stocks and preventing illegal and unregulated fishing, it will directly impact the viability of the region’s tuna fisheries, the economies of developing countries and the cost and availability of tuna for every consumer in the very near future,” Mr Trott said. for latest news and media resources

Bigeye Tuna for sale at the fish market in Hawaii.
© WWF / Lorraine Hitch Enlarge