Majuro 25 November 2018 — With next month’s annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) facing numerous challenges and opportunities to improve fisheries management, the head of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) said the foundation of success in the region is “rights-based management” that has been implemented by Pacific islands.

   “The Western and Central Pacific has the healthiest tuna stocks in the world,” said PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru. “This is primarily because of initiatives by members of PNA and the Forum Fisheries Agency to properly manage and conserve tuna stocks.”

   Efforts by distant water fishing nations to turn back the clock by increasing flag state control over the tuna fishery is not acceptable to PNA, Mr. Kumoru said.

   “Why should we do what regional fisheries management organizations have done in other parts of the world?” he asked. “They are not effective and fish stocks in most fisheries in the world are being over-fished as a result. But not in the Western Pacific where we have implemented numerous conservation and management mechanisms for the purse seine fishery that continue to prove successful.”

   Mr. Kumoru said that for coastal states in the region, two key issues underpinning fisheries management are rights-based control of the fishery and participation of the islands in all areas of the fishery, both in 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and on the high seas.

   The WCPFC is primarily focused on managing tuna fishing on the high seas. It meets in Honolulu from December 10-14.

   Mr. Kumoru said a priority of the WCPFC annual meeting next month is to gain agreement for a new tropical tuna measure to replace the management measure that expires December 31. PNA has joined with the FFA in endorsing a proposed measure that is already the subject of ongoing discussion and negotiation among WCPFC members.

   Mr. Kumoru made the point that what needs to happen on the high seas is the same as what PNA has implemented in its members’ EEZs: set a limit on the number of fishing days and allocate days that, like in the PNA Vessel Day Scheme, can be used or traded. The VDS has controlled fishing in-zone, maintaining tuna stocks in a healthy state, he said.

   “The allocation of fishing effort on the high seas must be for all members, not based on historical catch records,” said Mr. Kumoru. “Some members don’t have a history of fishing on the high seas but have an interest in fishing there. It’s not fair to lock out the islands for having no catch history on the high seas.”

   The effort levels set for fishing on the high seas need to be based on the status of the stocks, he said, adding that each member should receive a portion of “allowable effort.” “How you use your allocation is up to you,” he said. “Use it or trade it. But when the limit is reach, the high seas must be closed.”

   This is the model followed in PNA zones and it works as confirmed by ongoing stock assessments that show tuna remains at healthy levels, Mr. Kumoru said.

   Other important issues for PNA at next month’s WCPFC annual meeting include:

   • PNA opposes expanding membership in the WCPFC. Mr. Kumoru noted that there is increasing pressure to accept some “Cooperating Non-Members” into full membership with the Commission. But PNA members have always considered WCPFC to be a closed Commission and that new members could only join by invitation and consensus. The majority of current members are small island developing states that are highly dependent on these fishery resources — and in whose waters most of the fish is caught, he said, adding that allowing more countries outside the region to join as members would further weight the Commission against the interests of the islands.

   • The PNA CEO rejected calls by some non-government organizations (NGOs) and fishing states for the WCPFC to follow approaches to fish aggregating device (FAD) management used in other fisheries. Mr. Kumoru said in the Western and Central Pacific, where fishing on FADs is well controlled, most of the purse seine catch comes from fishing on free schools. All the major tropical tuna stocks in this region are in the “green” because they are being fished sustainably. In other ocean regions where purse seine fisheries are allowed to use FADs more heavily, most of the bigeye and yellowfin stocks are in trouble. This difference was largely because WCPFC’s focus, led by PNA, has been to reduce FAD fishing through well monitored and enforced FAD closures, in contrast to the apparent focus of NGOs and others which seems to be on data collection as a proxy for management.  These arrangements have been backed up by the comprehensive PNA FAD tracking program, which is the world’s only region-wide program of its kind. PNA is working to strengthen FAD management in PNA waters and throughout the Western and Central Pacific fishery “by doing what works for us,” said Mr. Kumoru.