MANILA – The annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission wrapped up Thursday without reaching significant commitments from the “fishing powers” to cut bigeye tuna catches.
“The big fishing nations did not make any significant commitments to cut their overfishing of bigeye tuna,” said Nanette Malsol, chairwoman of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), which manages the world’s largest sustainable tuna purse seine fishery.
“It is the big fishing nations that have historically overfished bigeye tuna. It is their longline fishing vessels that are responsible for much of the catch of adult bigeye, tuna which is still fished 40 percent over the sustainable level,” she said.
Bigeye tuna is used to make sushi. Marine activists are seeking conservation commitments from big fishing economies, including South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the United States and the European Union, to prevent overfishing.
At the meeting, Malsol said South Korea and Taiwan only agreed to voluntarily cut their longline catches by 2 percent and China by 10 percent.
“The Pew Environment Group welcomes progress we have seen this week on tightened controls on illegal fishing and the protection of whale sharks,” said Gerry Leape, head of the Pew delegation to the meeting.
However, he said the new measure adopted for tropical tuna is entirely based on countries choosing to protect their individual interests rather than working together.
“The debate this week was all about how much overfishing to allow, rather than how to end it. There is no doubt that this new measure will lead to further depletion of bigeye tuna,” he said. “It seems inevitable that, given these management decisions, we will again sit down and discuss an overfished stock in an even worse state than today.”
The Pew delegation’s Adam Baske said the meeting indeed failed to discuss how to set limits that manage the sustainability of tropical tuna, noting, “This is deeply disappointing and rejects the current science.”
The Nauru Agreement is a subregional agreement on terms and conditions for tuna purse seine fishing licenses in the region. The parties to the agreement are the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.
The PNA’s Malsol said more than 60 percent of the world’s skipjack tuna — the most commonly canned tuna — comes from this region.
However, scientists have warned that stocks in this area are under threat from massive overfishing, resulting in the fast depletion of the species.
“Yellowfin and bigeye tuna, for example, are already under immense pressure due to overfishing and the use of wasteful fishing techniques that lay waste to juvenile tuna and other marine life such as sharks and turtles,” Greenpeace said.
The environmental group added that the decline in the tuna population can only be reversed by abandoning destructive techniques and by creating marine reserves in parts of the Pacific so that stocks can recover.
While skipjack tuna is fished at sustainable levels, bigeye tuna is overfished due to the continued use of destructive fish aggregating devices (FADs), associated with purse seine fisheries and longline fishing.
The PEW Environment Group said an estimated 47,000 to 105,000 FADs are being used worldwide to catch tuna and other species of fish.
At the close of the six-day meeting, the commission also adopted a proposal to ban the setting of purse seine nets around whale sharks, a common practice among vessels fishing for tuna that often kills whale sharks — also a threatened species.
The commission meets annually to bring together Pacific Island countries and major fishing economies to meet and decide rules for fishing of tuna throughout the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, the world’s largest tuna fishery.