By Pita Ligaiula in Da Nang, Vietnam

Senior executives of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) are adamant the Commission will adopt management measures of a harvest strategy for skipjack tuna before the meeting wraps in Vietnam this week.

The long-term sustainability of the world’s most important tuna stocks, those in the Western Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) will be at risk if governments fail to implement protective management measures.

The 26 member states of the Tuna Commission (WCPFC) are meeting for crucial negotiations on harvest strategies, measures that are needed to prevent tuna stocks in the WCPO from ever becoming overfished.

WCPFC chair, Jungre Riley Kim told journalists in Da Nang, she is hopeful for a good outcome at WCPFC19.

“A management procedure for skipjack is one of the most important tasks that we have to do this year. And there is a small working group formed to specifically address that issue, which is being led by the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI). And there have been two small working groups addressing that issue.

“I think a good progress is being made. And hopefully, we can leave this meeting with adopted management procedure for skipjack,” said Riley.

Harvest strategies are vital to ensuring stocks are managed sustainably, this is particularly important for stocks such as tuna, which migrate across vast distances and are shared by multiple nations.

Photo: Pita Ligaiula/PINA

Outgoing executive director of WCPFC, Feleti Teo said harvest strategies include setting harvest control rules which must be followed if the stock declines, acting as a ‘safety net’.

“This is a new approach to fisheries management, what the commission has been done over the past decade or so is a reactionary sort of management approach one to a tuna stock reached a critical status, then the commission reacts to put in place measures that addresses that critical situation, which is always difficult because countries have their own commercial interest. And it’s very difficult to negotiate measures in response to a crisis.

“What the management strategy approach brings to the fore is that the Commission will negotiate rules in advance of a stock reaching a crisis. So once a crisis point is triggered, then there are already pre-agreed rules as to how to manage that situation. This year the Commission is considering skipjack management procedures. But the whole game plan is to have a similar harvest strategy for highly commercialised tuna stock. So, this is an entirely new approach to fisheries management and one that will hopefully take the politics out of fisheries management,” said Teo.

WCPFC chair Riley said establishing these rules can be challenging as they must be agreed by all nations which share the stock.

“And we are also revising the harvest strategy work plan to incorporate some changes and although slow, but we are making progress on harvest strategy elements. And we are also going to deal with next steps for tropical tuna, a major revision.

“And we have some agreement on basic principles as to the next steps. And I am undertaking the draft work plan for next year. So that actually the Commission can adopt a revised plan.

“Another important piece is the compliance monitoring scheme (CMS) is one of the most important pillars of submission in terms of compliance monitoring. And there are small intercession and working group works undertaken by various leads, including risk-based management framework, and audit points and also our participation and corrective actions. And we do have significant progress on audit points,” she said.

Riley said she is also proud that the commission has one of the most advanced compliance monitoring schemes.

“We are still progressing, and other issues involve Scientific Committee-related works. And we are also making good progress on management procedure issues and harvest strategy issues and other ecosystem-related species such as sharks, sea birds, and cetaceans.

“So, I think we are making good progress on the agenda that we have set for ourselves this year. So, I’m very positive,” she said.

Executive director of WCPFC, Feleti Teo said the Commission wants to tick off all the boxes before the meeting ends.

“Before we turn up in Da Nang, the Commission sent a letter to member countries setting priorities as to be achieved here. We would like to tick off all those boxes, including the adoption of a management procedure for skipjack.

“We’ve got a new executive director lined up to take over from me in March when I leave, and so we want to tick off on all those boxes,” said Teo.