Press Release – Tropical Tuna Workshops Lead to Progress in Developing Favorable Management Measure for U.S. Pacific Island Fisheries (9 October 2023)
HONOLULU (9 October 2023) The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council and the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority convened an informal meeting last week to discuss longline fishery management components of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission conservation and management measure for tropical tunas. Held at the WCPFC headquarters in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, workshop participants included individuals from the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), Parties of the Nauru Agreement (PNA), other Pacific Island countries, USA, Taiwan and Korea.
The workshop was the third held this year by the Council and MIMRA focusing on longline provisions with the WCPFC’s marquee tropical tuna measure, which expires at the end of the year. The WCPFC is meeting in December 2023 in Rarotonga, Cook Islands to negotiate a new tropical tuna measure, which covers key tuna stocks of skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye. Nearly 60% of global tuna supply is covered under the WCPFC’s tropical tuna measure.
The latest 2023 Pacific Community (SPC) stock assessment for bigeye tuna showed that under recent catch levels, as well as greater levels of exploitation, the bigeye tuna stock is projected to increase. At the workshop, SPC staff discussed projections that forecast stock biomass depletion levels and associated risks of breaching biomass sustainability limits under varying longline catch and purse seine effort scenarios. The bottomline is that there is room to increase longline catches and allow some decreases in purse seine fish aggregating device (FAD) closures while still meeting WCPFC conservation objectives.
Supported by scientific evidence, for the past several years the United States has proposed at the WCPFC’s annual meeting to increase its bigeye tuna longline limit without success. The existing United States’ bigeye longline limit is caught in its entirety by the Hawaii-based longline fishery and is reached every year by October and often earlier. The U.S. longline limit is based on a single year (2004) as its baseline and has never been commensurate with the the Hawaii longline limited-entry permitted fishery’s capacity. The federally managed Hawaii-based longline fleet is the State’s largest food producer and an increased U.S. longline bigeye limit supports Hawaii’s food self sufficiency and resiliency objectives. The Hawaii based-longline fishery lands premium ice-chilled seafood principally for Hawaii and domestic markets and is subject to unmatched monitoring and protected species mitigation measures. At a minimum, the WCPFC at its meeting in December should consider increased longline bigeye limits for highly monitored and comprehensively managed fishing fleets such as the Hawaii longline fishery.
WCPFC Member Nations Consider Limiting High Seas Fishing Effort
While the United States considers closing additional federal waters in the Pacific to fishing through domestic development of a National Marine Sanctuary, existing international arrangements limit fishing on the high seas. The WCPFC, at its September 29-30 workshop, discussed further limiting high seas fishing for purse seine vessels, which is the gear responsible for nearly 70% of global tuna catch. Pacific Island countries support high seas fishing restrictions as a means to drive fishing effort into their exclusive economic zones (EEZs) to collect access fees for their local island economies. In addition, the high seas could potentially be limited through the Intergovernmental Conference on Marine Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ), which was adopted earlier this year.
With the high seas subject to futher potential restrictions, prohibiting all commercial fishing within the proposed Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Sanctuary would unnecessarily harm U.S. tuna fleets and negatively impact American Samoa’s tuna dependent economy.
America Samoa Seeks Privileges for SIDS and Participating Territories
Council member Taotasi Archie Soliai from American Samoa made an impassioned plea to WCPFC members at the workshop, particularly fellow Pacific Islanders, to recognize fishing vessels that are integral to the territory’s economy to be granted privileges given to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Participating Territories.
American Samoa is seeking to have U.S.-flagged purse seine vessels that supply the cannery in Pago Pago be exempt from high seas limits and seasonal FAD closures. Other Pacific Island nations have utilized this exemption to optimize their fishery production.
Addressing the Commission, Soliai said, “The highest priority for American Samoa is to gain full recognition of the disproportionate burden we have borne as a SIDS / Participating Territory, and to maintain a reliable supply of tuna for processing in our one remaining cannery.”
The WCPFC is an international commission responsible for managing highly migratory species fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. The WCPFC is comprised of 26 member countries and seven Particiating Territories, including the United States and American Samoa, CNMI and Guam.