By Pita Ligaiula
MANILA, 07 DECEMBER 2017 (PACNEWS)- Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) have threatened to pull out of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) if the fishing nations and coastal states who make its membership fail to agree on new rules for all-important tropical tuna.
Current rules for the fishery – known as the Tropical Tuna Measure – expire at the end of this year.
Delegates at the WCPFC have only until the end of today [7 December] to reach agreement on new rules or face the prospect of a free-for-all in the fishery.
Forum Fishery Agency and PNA countries have been working hard to achieve an agreement as has the Chair of WCPFC Rhea Moss-Christian who has come up with a compromise proposal – a new revision of her proposed Tropical Tuna Bridging Measure.
But the PNA and FFA are still frustrated by two Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs) United States and Japan failure to agree on key demands.
PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru explained how he saw progress with negotiations: “First ..I thought it wasn’t going to get anywhere. At the end of the day I thought .. we were just going to fall back to status quo (by extending the current rules). But (now) I think there has been some positive progress.”
But substantive issues that could bring the negotiations to a halt are still outstanding.
”The big ...ticket (item) which is the control on the high seas, the high seas FAD closures vs the in-zone FAD closures hasn’t been resolved yet,” Mr Kumoru said.
At the moment Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) which result in a large accidental catch of vulnerable bigeye tuna are banned in the high seas as a conservation measure.
Allowing FAD fishing, or any increase in fishing in the high seas, would have a substantial impact on vital fisheries income for PNA states and risk depleting the stock.
While the PNA is cautiously hopeful about negotiations a collapse in the talks cannot be ruled out.
In that eventuality the PNA has a clear plan.
“For PNA, and I don’t have to speak for FFA, its simple – you just pull PNA out of the commission. Take the EEZs of PNA out of the commission,” Ludwig Kumoru told journalists in Manila.
Anything is possible,” Kumoru stressed.
The FFA and PNA have a joint position for the Tropical Tuna Measure that they will not allow the stocks to be further depleted.
“Any further than that, especially for bigeye, if you relax any of those measures, it’s not good. So even though the science says that stock is in a healthy state there’s still a lot of uncertainties – so the bottom line for us is that we don’t go below what we have currently,” Kumoru explained.
Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Director General, James Movick agreed: “The 2017 measures seemed to have achieved the conservation limit the scientists have been asking for. So that’s been good,” He said.
The FFA is also keen to see progress on rules governing the albacore tuna fishery which is important to the 11 FFA nations that are members of the Tokelau Arrangement.
“In addition to that we would like to see some progress in the southern albacore as a region. And the adoption of a target reference point would be good, even a relatively flexible or liberal one would be good – at least it begins the process, “ he said.
The FFA is also seeking commitment to move to harvest control rules – a more systematic way of managing the fishery less vulnerable to politicking – and a commitment from the commission that from 2019 it would look to the adoption of measures regarding access and allocation of High Seas rights.
But an immediate solution to high seas fishing is more urgent.
“If everything collapses there is no deal and there is no agreement to continue the 2017 measures – that would be a disaster as there would be no management regime at all in place, Mr Movick warned.
“Everyone would go out and try and harvest as much as they can and we clearly want to avoid that,” he added.