Pacific tuna fishery protections in place for 2021

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Pacific Island countries have worked with fishing nations to secure crucial protection measures next year for an industry worth over US$1 billion to local economies and employing around 24,000 following global meetings last week.

Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Director General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said the virtual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission* (WCPFC) had ensured key management measures were rolled over to secure the fishery for the coming year.

“FFA Member countries went into this virtual meeting with a clear set of priorities. The most important was ensuring we rolled over the flagship Tropical Tuna Measure for another year to ensure there was not a management vacuum while a new measure is negotiated in 2021,” said Dr Tupou-Roosen.

“Our current measure expires in February 2021. Tuna fisheries are the social and economic lifeblood of many of our Pacific countries and we needed to ensure we had certainty. It was essential to the sustainable management of our tuna stocks that we avoided an outcome similar to recent meetings of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), who failed to reach a consensus on regulations, leaving their fishery unmanaged next year,” she said.

“We are really pleased that we were able to secure this outcome for the Western Pacific region.” 

The Tropical Tuna Measure regulates the tuna catch in the region and puts in place measures to ensure the amount of fishing effort and catch is kept at sustainable levels.

Forum Fisheries Committee Chair Eugene Pangelinan said virtual meetings were particularly challenging for Pacific members and in-person negotiations were a much more successful option for complex discussions.

“Pacific nations often struggle with poor internet connectivity and to make matters worse, we frequently must contend with tropical cyclones at this time of year that cause significant disruption to communications.. Trying to successfully complete sensitive negotiations under COVID conditions was always going to be more difficult,” said Mr Pangelinan.

“We managed to get key fishing nations to pull back a bit on the horns and accept the fact that this virtual commission meeting is not the time to talk about new measures which may increase bigeye tuna catch or adding fishing days to high-seas purse-seine effort limits,” he said.

“We’ve obviously got a lot of work to do now for 2021. In addition to negotiating a comprehensive tropical tuna measure, we will be looking at measures to ensure best practice approaches to observer safety and to address crew labour conditions and human rights issues at sea. It will be a busy year, but we are confident that this will be achievable, especially if face-to-face meetings can resume at some point next year.”

Pacific-caught fish contribute significantly to the diets of people in other parts of the world, with the Western and Central Pacific Ocean accounting for almost 60 percent of the global tuna catch, of which more than half is taken in the waters of FFA member countries.

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