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Bolstering Regional Management for Sustainable Tuna Fisheries — ISSF

Bolstering Regional Management for Sustainable Tuna Fisheries — ISSF

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The overfishing of the bigeye tuna stock in the central and western Pacific Ocean was one of the most talked about fisheries stories of 2014.

(Photo from: International Seafood Sustainability Foundation)

(Photo from: International Seafood Sustainability Foundation)

Maybe that’s why, at the end of last year, almost every stakeholder in the industry and conservation community expressed stern criticism for the lack of effective measures to end overfishing in the western and central Pacific, where the species’ decline is most pronounced, said Susan Jackson, president of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF).

When it comes to tunas, there are five Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) that cover all oceans. The members of these organizations – which include all of the major fishing nations and coastal states – have the mandate to collectively adopt conservation and management measures for those fisheries. These RFMOs all also have systems for assessing compliance with their regulations by their member states. Most importantly, over decades these treaty-based organizations have established a legal framework within which members adopt binding measures that carry the force of law.

One of these five organizations, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) – whose membership includes nations from the EU to China, Japan to the U.S., and New Zealand to the Solomon Islands – recently wrapped up a disappointing year-end session. Little was accomplished for tuna sustainability despite calls for several necessary and significant policy changes from a diverse group of concerned parties, Jackson said.

Like any organization composed of many governments, bureaucratic slog and political posturing can too frequently reign over decisive action. With the example from the recent WCPFC meeting, it’s perhaps understandable that the calls for an entirely new, from-the-ground-up international governance system continue and may even be gaining some momentum.

“But it is important to think carefully about disregarding the existing legal framework of tuna RFMOs, which already have the mandate, membership, global coverage and experience working in each unique tuna-fishing region. NGOs and the private sector need to cooperate with and strengthen RFMOs, while vigorously advocating for the adoption and implementation of science-based management measures so that tuna stocks and their ecosystems are managed comprehensively and sustainably. We are seeing signs of progress in a number of areas by doing just that,” explained Jackson.

Jackson highlighted “important and progressive steps” tuna RFMOs have taken in the last two years, for example:

  • Requiring the use of unique vessel identifying (UVIs) numbers that aid in combating illegal fishing;
  • Promoting management to better understand and then help mitigate unintended catch of non-target species around fish attracting rafts known as FADs;
  • Improving data collection and the use of harvest strategies for sound science-based management decisions;
  • and strengthening measures to monitor vessel’s activities on the water in their respective regions.

“While RFMOs are not always the most effective harbingers of change, nor do they execute policy with machine-like efficiency, they still play a leading and integral role in the international management of shared fisheries resources,” she said. “They are a framework that requires the cooperation of many nations to work. And when they fail to act, which they sometimes will, it is up to conservationists, the market and industry to step up where RFMOs fall short.”

Jackson added that a decline of bigeye tuna stocks is not good for anyone – least of all the businesses and coastal communities relying on the health of the stock. So, it is extremely frustrating that the powers that be in the Pacific allowed the opportunity to address it slip through their hands.

“Now is the time for us to do more,” she said.

(Read the full comment from Susan Jackson.)

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