By Helen Greig
The Cook Islands is challenging other Pacific nations to support the adoption of a meaningful harvest strategy for albacore tuna following a commitment to reduce its own catches by up to 35 per cent within two years.
The pledge was made by Ministry of Marine Resources Secretary Ben Ponia, to the 40 nations of the Tuna Commission (WCPFC) in Bali, Indonesia on Monday, December 7.
Under the agreement between the 10 albacore tuna countries – known as the Tokelau Arrangement [Tonga is a party] - Pacific nations have already been asked to make commitments to reduce their catch.
The WCPFC Scientific Committee recommends a 37 per cent reduction in total regional catch.
Cook Islands want to work within the WCPFC harvest strategy to reduce its catches to 7000 tonnes per year.
“Our commitment to the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Tokelau Arrangement was to reduce our catch to 9,600 tonnes. We are willing to work within the WCPFC harvest strategy to reduced catches further to a 35 per cent level or 7,000 tonnes within two years,” PM Ponia told the WCPFC plenary.
However, the proposed catch reduction is conditional on a phased reduction and eventual ban of longline fishing in the eastern high seas pocket, which borders Cook Islands waters.
“It would be prejudicial to our interests and domestic fleets of the FFA members if we were to reduce catches in our zone but effort was to increase in this area [high seas],” said Ponia.
Fishing on the high seas is virtually uncontrolled and billions of dollars’ worth of tuna are caught in these pockets each year.
The Cook Islands albacore catch in 2012 was 10,700 tonnes – 15 per cent of the total catches in the Commission region.
“We think it is important to commit to our support for WCPFC to adopt a meaningful harvest strategy and at Pacific Forum Leaders meeting in relation to the FFA Sustainable Fisheries Roadmap.”
Harvest strategies can provide a clear, long-term vision for a sustainable stock and fishery.
Ponia said the underlying purpose of the concession is to challenge members to not only work with conservation management measures, but to apply commitments across the board to make meaningful progress within the remaining days of WCPFC 12.
The Cook Islands is planning to move toward a quota management system in 2016 to set hard limits on the catch of albacore.
Under the FFA Fisheries Roadmap adopted earlier this year, Forum leaders have committed to replacing effort controls on fishing with catch-based (quota) systems within 10 years.
The Tokelau Arrangement nations [Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Niue, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu] proposed to rein in catch and effort levels in the south Pacific albacore fishery, after concerns raised by the 2015 Pacific Community (SPC) stock assessment which suggests the fishery is far more vulnerable than previously assessed. SPC predicts fishing at current levels has a high risk of pushing albacore stocks over the edge in the next 20 years. FFA members are backing a measure aimed at setting a Target Reference Point of 45 per cent of the unfished biomass of the South Pacific albacore stock.
The Tuna Commission meets annually, with NGOs and science organisations participating along with the 40 countries represented. The 26 member nations make the decisions that decide the future of the four main tuna species caught in the world’s largest tuna fishery.