Mixed outcomes from WCPFC19

Posted on 13 January 2023
Grading Yellow Fin Tuna at Seaquest processing facility in Suva, Fiji.
© WWF Pacific
 Suva, Fiji – The Commission for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPFC19) achieved significant results, including the adoption of a Skipjack harvest strategy and management procedure, a revised shark conservation management measure (CMM) that includes a ban on shark lines and wire leaders, and the inclusion of climate change on its meeting agenda.
However, more needs to be done to strengthen the sustainable management and conservation of the world's largest tuna fishery, as the Western and Central Pacific Oceans account for more than 55% of global tuna catch (WCPO).

 Representatives of Pacific-based CSOs attended WCPFC19 in Da Nang, Vietnam.  These organisations include Human Dignity Group, Micronesia Conservation Trust, Pacific Islands News Association, Pacific Conference of Churches, Women in Fisheries Network-Fiji, and WWF.
A joint CSO Communique was submitted, outlining seven issues that the CSOs hoped to address at this year's Pacific regional tuna conference, which was held face to face after a two-year hiatus.
"Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, such as the WCPFC, act as intermediaries between international commitments and obligations. WWF and our CSO delegation particularly support the Commission's efforts to effectively control overfishing and IUU fishing through the implementation of harvest strategies and effective conservation and management measures required to ensure the long-term productivity and sustainability of the WCPO tuna fishery. This is especially important for Pacific Island countries whose economies are heavily reliant on the sea,” said WWF-Pacific's Sustainable Fisheries and Seafood Programme Manager, Duncan Williams.
Progress on Pacific CSO Priority Issues
Concerns raised by CSO representatives included the Commission's accountability and improved observer participation; better management of fish aggregation devices (FADs); security, safety, and well-being of crew and fisheries observers; high seas transshipment; fisheries observer coverage on longline fishing vessels; delays in the adoption of harvest strategies; and shark bycatch.
Observer Participation at WCPFC
Participation in some of the sessions is limited or non-existent, and there is a lack of transparency in the decision-making process and inclusion in all related meeting sessions, which presents a significant barrier to ensuring adequate accountability in the management of a publicly owned resource. Because the shared concern is about the sustainability of the resource as well as the social, health, and safety impacts of observers and crew, inclusive participation rather than closed door discussions are critical.
The CSO delegation's recommendation was to improve transparency of WCPFC proceedings to ensure consistency with Article 21 of the WCPFC Convention, and for the Commission to allow WCPFC Observers access to all WCPFC sessions, including compliance matters, and urge members to urgently reconsider options for participation in meetings concerning the review of the compliance monitoring report; and tap into available expertise from non-governmental organizations. High participation fees effectively prevent small CSOs from participating. Fees should be set at a level that encourages CSO participation from WCPFC SIDS members.
While observers participated in most small working group (SWG) sessions at WCPFC19, there are still reservations concerning observer participation in the Compliance Monitoring Review (CMR) process. Effective and transparent management of tuna resources and addressing issues such as IUU fishing or labour standards etc. will require inclusive participation and observers should be seen as partners in this process,” said WWF-Pacific Sustainable Fisheries & Seafood Programme Manager, Duncan Williams.
The use of FADs, as well as their effects on coastal communities, small-scale fisheries, and fishermen, is not fully understood. CSOs this year recommended that the WCPFC Secretariat consider the impacts of FADs on coastal communities and small-scale fisheries, and that fishers be included in FAD management deliberations; increase the use of non-entangling and biodegradable FAD materials; conduct additional research and trials on the use of FAD materials; strengthen monitoring of non-entangling and biodegradable FADs to improve data quality; and encourage the adoption of a WCPFC guideline for non-entangling and biodegradable FADs.
At WCPFC19, the Commission supported the recommendations provided by the TCC18 and SC18 on definitions of biodegradable and categories of biodegradable FADs. This work will be further examined by the FAD Management Option-intercessional working group (IWG) including looking at timelines and potential gaps in the coming year. Commission members also supported the need to revisit the ROP minimum standards data fields for monitoring of non-entangling and biodegradable FADs. This will ensure improvement of quality data collected by fisheries observers,” highlighted WWF-Pacific’s Fisheries Policy Officer, Vilisoni Tarabe.
Security, Safety and Well-being of Crew and Fisheries Observers
Efforts made thus far to ensure the safety, security, and well-being of fishing crew and fisheries observers are appreciated. However, this year, new incidents have been reported within the WCPO, implying that binding measures within the WCPFC are required to improve working conditions and the well-being of fishing crew and fisheries observers.
Recommendations included implementing binding measures to ensure safe and decent working conditions for fishing crew, including women, on fishing vessels operating in the Convention Area, in accordance with the FFA's Harmonised Minimum Terms and Conditions on Human Rights and Labour Conditions for Crew, which went into effect on January 1st, 2020; the IMO's Cape Town Agreement on Fishing Vessels Safety; and the International Labour Organization's Work in Fishing Convention, 2007. (C188).
“WCPFC19 approved a framework for moving forward with the crew welfare. The rhetoric around the table indicated strong support for adoption at the next meeting after the working group's work in 2023. If we can't protect the crew on these vessels, how can we honestly look at ourselves in the mirror and say we can protect the conservation of the resource,” revealed Human Dignity Group’s Executive Officer, Dr. Patricia Kailola.
WWF Western and Central Tuna Programme Manager, Bubba Cook adds that a binding measure to protect crew is long overdue.
“Addressing crew welfare on board vessels is an important feature of giving information on what's happening at sea a level of transparency that allows us to better address the conservation assets as well. It’s nonsensical to address the human rights of one person serving on the vessels but not the others. Those objections were very subdued following that analysis and after some additional discussion they said look we have an obligation that we don’t have a fishery if we don’t have people on board those vessels, so it’s imperative to address the issue of crew on board those vessels,” highlighted Bubba.
Longline Fisheries Observer Coverage
Greater fisheries observer coverage is required in the longline fishery to ensure data accuracy and adequacy, enhancing the Commission's ability to manage tuna fisheries sustainably. The inability to monitor compliance with conservation and management measures is hampered by a lack of observer coverage. While the technology is promising, electronic monitoring systems to supplement the work of fisheries observers are not widely used.
The CSO delegation recommended increasing the number of fisheries observers’ onboard longline fishing vessels operating within the Commission's jurisdiction to ensure better catch data, reporting, and regulatory compliance. Encourage enhanced monitoring through human observers or electronic monitoring (EM) for all fishing and transshipment activities in particular.
“The Covid-19 pandemic had a great impact on fisheries observer coverage on longline fishing vessels. However, noting that many crew are now fully vaccinated, the requirement to have full re-deployment of fisheries observers from January 2023 is a positive move made by the Commission members. Further work in developing the EM program such as drafting of the standards, specifications and procedures (SSPs) for EM will be carried out by the ER & EM working group in 2023. This will ensure that the Commission continues to sustainably manage the regions tuna fisheries with improvement in catch data and reporting standards in both science and compliance matters,” highlighted Dr. Koilola.
High Seas Transshipments
The CSO delegation’s recommendations are that at sea transshipments, particularly on the high seas, be prohibited due to the difficulties in effectively monitoring the practice. We recommend that, where permitted, transshipments occur only in port; Cooperating Commission Members must also take the necessary steps to implement CMM 2017/02 Conservation and Management Measure on Minimum Standards for Port State Measures in order to strengthen efforts to combat IUU fishing; establish requirements for real-time or near-real-time reporting, record keeping, and monitoring for all transshipment activities, including crew transfers at sea, to ensure their safety, security, and well-being; encourage CCMs to conduct more port inspections, particularly on vessels suspected of engaging in IUU fishing; investigate, develop, and implement low-cost technologies to improve the capacity to combat IUU fishing; and all fleets (compulsory) have complete observer coverage (human or Electronic Monitoring). 
Results from WCPFC19, the Intersessional Working Group on Transshipment was given more time and authority to address the transshipment issue over the next year, particularly the Fish Carrier (FC)-3 requirements of destinations for catches. However, WCPFC19 approved FC-1 and FC-2.
WCPFC19 also amended CMM 2013-05 to require electronic reporting by April 30 of next year, with a limited exception for some small vessels.
"Pacific islands have a right to benefit from the (tuna) resource. We'd like to see all tuna caught in the region landed in port where catch be subject to much better scrutiny and ultimately the benefits accrue more to the Pacific through taxes, levies and port services,” highlighted Bubba Cook.
The Commission members adopted the workplan provided by the TS-IWG which included a reference to the new FAO Voluntary Guideline for Transshipment. They also supported the recommendations for minimum standards data fields to be collected by ROP observers during transshipments at sea and will consider additional reporting requirements in 2023. This will help improve data quality and better management by the Commission,” highlighted Bubba Cook.
Harvest Strategies
There are concerns that the harvest strategy workplan for the key tuna species has been repeatedly delayed. These delays not only jeopardize the long-term sustainable management of WCPO tuna fisheries, but they may also have an impact on market access for many Pacific small island developing states that have invested in eco-labelling certification. The CSO delegation supports and reiterate calls from eco-labelling certified fishing industry participants, sustainable market actors, and consumers along the tuna supply chain to support the adoption of key components of the harvest strategy approach. We believe this step should be taken while these stocks are in a generally healthy biological state.
The lack of effective harvest strategy management in the WCPO, and in particular the high seas, leaves the region vulnerable to management failures and potential collapse of key tuna stocks.
Recommendations included establishing and fully implementing harvest strategies for all tuna species, particularly well-established and explicit target reference points (TRPs) for yellowfin (YFT), bigeye, skipjack (SKJ), and South Pacific albacore tuna that will achieve management objectives to ensure the fishery's long-term sustainability, productivity, and social benefits; adopting well-defined management procedures (harvest control rules) for all tuna species; and elaborating on management procedures (harvest control rules).
“WCPFC19 adopted a harvest strategy for SKJ that includes a management procedure for SKJ following long negotiations over the target reference point (TRP) level and a more conservative harvest control rule (HCR). Whether it fully meets the MSC standard is questionable as language in the text makes it appear optional, which would be the opposite of a "rule".  We won't really know until it is tested before an Independent Adjudicator,” said WWF Western and Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager, Bubba Cook.
The dates for the Harvest Strategy Workplan were also moved again, particularly for YFT and big eye tuna TRPs and MPs.
“An intercessional working group (IWG) will continue discussions on a management objective, revision of an interim target reference point (iTRP) and development of a management procedure (MP) for the South Pacific Albacore from next year,” added Vilisoni Tarabe.
According to a recent study, the global population of oceanic sharks and rays has declined by 71% since 1970, owing primarily to an 18-fold increase in fishing pressure. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, three-quarters of these species are threatened with extinction due to overfishing. Oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus) and scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) sharks are two examples. Recent media coverage has continued to highlight shark finning activities that target vulnerable shark species.
The following measures were recommended to reduce bycatch and mortality of all shark species; ensure the adoption and implementation of a national shark action plan (including introductory recovery plans for endangered and critically endangered sharks); use only monofilament branch lines and prohibit the use of wire leaders and shark lines; implement a 'fins naturally attached' policy in order to comply with shark retention measures; and ensure safe handling and release practices are implemented using appropriate mitigation tools (i.e. cut the branch line at a safe distance away from sharks using a knife).
The CSO delegation are also concerned that, according to publicly available fisheries observer data, sharks continue to account for the greatest proportion of incidentally caught bycatch of endangered and threatened species in the WCPO. Two species are still being overfished. According to SC18, the 2019 stock assessment shows that Oceanic whitetip sharks (OCS) are still overfished and being overfished. Furthermore, the 2018 stock assessment shows that Silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) (FAL) are also overfished.
“This year, a revised shark CMM that includes a ban on shark lines and wire leaders is a significant advancement. We have been advocating for this for the last eight years to ban fishing gear which specifically targets or is dangerous to sharks. The adoption of the new rules was made possible through extensive research into Silky and Oceanic White Tip sharks. This measure will protect all shark species and ultimately lead to recovery of stocks,” added WWF-Pacific’s Fisheries Policy Officer, Vilisoni Tarabe.
However, there are still concerns with requirements to "stow" wire leads when "targeting tuna and tuna-like species" as it creates more enforcement challenges than simply not having wire on board. 
“We all know how hard it is to monitor the longline fisheries to begin with, especially because there are virtually no observers on them.  Moreover, the new measure means a vessel could "stow" gear on board in WCPO waters and then, as soon as it crosses the boundary into another RFMO, like the IATTC, or outside 20N-20S, immediately deploy that gear,” Tarabe added,
“In addition, for seabirds, WCPFC19 agreed to review the seabird measure in the coming year and acknowledged that the science indicates that, as a matter of best practice, there should be use of approved mitigation measures such as bird scaring lines (tori lines), weighted branch lines and night setting or stand-alone hook shielding devices or underwater bait setter,” revealed Tarabe.
Climate Change
A big win at WCPFC19 was the commitment to placing climate change at the forefront of all future undertakings of the regional fisheries management organisation.
“In the 2019 meeting in Port Moresby, the Commission adopted a resolution on climate change. This year, the Commission agreed to have standing agenda items related to climate change responses not only in the Scientific Committee (SC), but also in the Technical and Compliance Committee (TCC), the Northern committee and the Tuna Commission meeting. However, we will need to invest more in science to be able to better understand how climate change affects the distribution of tuna species in the region and what that would mean for PSIDS in regards to their fisheries,” Tarabe said.
WWF is an accredited Observer at WCPFC and participation at WCPFC19 and leading a team of Pacific-based CSOs has been made possible with the assistance of the Pacific European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) Programme through the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).
For more information:
Ravai Vafo’ou, Communications Officer, WWF-Pacific; Phone: +679 331 5533 Ext. 104; Email: rvafoou@wwfpacific.org
About WWF
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries.  WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. More information: panda.org
About FFA
The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) is a regional organisation providing expertise, technical assistance and other support to our members so they can manage, control and develop their tuna fisheries now and in the future. Based in Honiara, Solomon Islands, FFA has 17 members - Australia, Cook Islands, Federated
States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa,Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
Logo, company name
Description automatically generated
The Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP) Programme addresses some of the most serious challenges faced by Pacific countries. Among these are the increasing depletion of coastal fisheries resources; the threats to marine biodiversity, including negative impacts of climate change and disasters; the uneven contribution of oceanic fisheries to national economic development; the need for improved education and training; and the need to mainstream a rights-based approach and to promote greater recognition of gender issues to ensure inclusiveness and positive changes for Pacific Island people.  This seven-year PEUMP programme is funded by the European Union (EUR 35 million) and the Government of Sweden (EUR 10 million). It is implemented by the Pacific Community (SPC), the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the University of the South Pacific (USP) in close collaboration with Non-Government Organisations and the national authorities.
Grading Yellow Fin Tuna at Seaquest processing facility in Suva, Fiji.
© WWF Pacific Enlarge