By Pita Ligaiula in Da Nang

An expert in the tuna industry in the Pacific says the fishery will not collapse next year if the Tuna Commission (WCPFC 19) meeting in Vietnam this week does not adopt management measures of a harvest strategy for skipjack tuna.

Francisco Blaha told PACNEWS the threat by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to suspend 33 MSC-certified tuna fisheries in the region if the harvest strategy is not adopted is a “scaremongering” tactics.

“I personally think the “scaremongering” driven by the MSC and some of their lobby groups are way more about their fear of losing money and their relevance in a world that is starting to see beyond their business model rather than the long-term skipjack tuna sustainability and is actually quite colonial,” Blaha told PACNEWS.

He said pointing fingers at Forum Fisheries Agencies (FFA), Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) and Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) that have been working on this for a long time is not fair.

“So, there are some NGOs campaigning to get it done, which is fair enough… yet while I support the position of NGOs as “opinion-holders’, I don’t think they are more important than those of “stakeholders,” Blaha said.

Blaha said the tropical tuna measure (TTM) and the Harvest strategy (HaSt) agreement is perhaps the most complex issue faced at the WCPFC.

“I just want to give a word of caution if you decide to tackle it, as it is very easy to fall into holes and potentially antagonise parties. It’s important to keep in mind that the WCPFC Harvest Strategy Work Plan is delayed not because of a lack of dialogue and understanding of its importance of it, but mostly because the debate on harvest strategy elements has become a geopolitical tool used by some Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs) to influence future allocations and (of course!) entrench privilege”.

“As per the MSC angle, if there is no harvest strategy agreement, MSC will no doubt be the most affected in all of this… the reality is that they have more at stake and to lose than Small Islands Developing States (SIDS)… if they were to suspend the certification of the key fishery that brings most of the volume under their logo, they would lose a lot of money”.

Francisco Blaha. Photo: PINA

“Would they shoot their own foot based on a process that is delayed due to politics? Doubt it! They need the fishery more than the fishery needs them,” said Blaha.

He said MSC is in a tight spot under their new standards and the adjudication system changes are that if the harvest strategy and reference points are not agreed, they will need to take the certification out.

“If they do so… as they say they lose their cash cow, and if they don’t, they will be crucified by the NGO that oppose fisheries.

“A lot is at stake, the setting of the harvest strategy will be good for MSC, but that’s not the primary purpose of the harvest strategy… the reason why MSC can certify the tuna fishery is because it is managed sustainably by the SIDS and not the opposite… people should never forget that” said Blaha.

Blaha said while adopting a skipjack management procedure would look good on paper, the reality is that there are gaps and weaknesses in the current management framework, especially for the management of fishing on the high seas, which is less controlled and far less effectively monitored than fishing in national waters.

“It is going to be difficult to fully apply longer-term management arrangements until the weakness in high seas management is addressed.

“The stocks are healthy because FFA/PNA continues to manage and sustain their fishery against the raft of obligations they have signed onto at the pace that ensures their capacity is catered for and fits their purpose in short to medium term with the long-term outlook for a regionally sustained fishery,” he said.

The WCPFC has a role in adopting harvest strategies to effectively manage key species in the Pacific, such as yellowfin and bigeye tuna.

The Commission has previously recognised the need for harvest strategies reflected in its Conservation Management Measure to develop and implement a harvest strategy approach for key fisheries and stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).