This puts the U.S. at odds with Pacific Island nations
Honolulu-- The United States is seeking a higher catch limit for bigeye tuna by its Hawaii-based longline fishing fleet at the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission taking place in Honolulu this week.
The move comes as Pacific Island nations through their two main inter-governmental fishing agencies have made it clear they are not willing to increase the total bigeye catch in Pacific waters. In its proposal to the 26-member rule-setting body the United States highlights the significant levels of monitoring and control it maintains in the fishery, outperforming other members of the commission.
Washington points out that while the large longline fleets maintained by Japan, Korea and Taiwan have failed to meet the commission’s minimum requirement of placing independent fisheries observers on five percent of their vessels the Hawaii-based U.S. fleet has consistently outperformed minimum requirements.
Figures included in the proposal show the U.S. fleet has achieved observer coverage of about 20 percent in its deep-set fishery and 100 percent in its shallow-set fishery.
With "essentially no at-sea transshipments" taking place in the fishery, the U.S. argues it has been contributing highly certain catch data and other fisheries information, making an important contribution.
The U.S. proposes that as an incentive for Commission members to provide better quality catch data, catch limits should be increased by one percent on 2018 levels for every one percent of observer coverage achieved over the five percent minimum and that catch limits should be increased by 10 percent on 2018 levels for every member that achieves 100 percent transshipment free fishing.
The U.S. proposal admits that under current conditions, its fleets would be the only ones eligible to receive an increase in their catch limits. It comes as the Science Committee of the WCPFC confirms advice that bigeye tuna is not overfished or experiencing overfishing.
However, Pacific nations do not want to see an increase in the catch of bigeye.
The CEO of the eight-nation Parties to the Nauru Agreement group Ludwig Kumoru said although the U.S. fishing industry is laudable for its efforts to put in measures to improve monitoring and control of their fishing vessels, the number of observers should not “directly relate to how much fish should I take from the ocean.”
He said that the amount of observer coverage or number of observers one places on the vessels does not relate to the amount of fish one catches. Therefore good reporting should not be used as a condition to increase catch. "We should instead concentrate on bringing conservation measures that actually support sustainable fishing,” Kumoru said.
Although he doesn't agree with the proposal, Kumoru said it will be up to the Commission members to decide on the matter.
"I think we should concentrate on bringing in conservation measures that actually support sustainable fishing.” Kumoru said.
The director general of the 17-nation Forum Fisheries Agency, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, said that although the science says that bigeye tuna looks to be in healthier state than previously thought, the FFA has advised the commission to maintain current fishing limits and to take a precautionary approach.
.Dr. Tupou-Roosen stressed that the FFA wants to see a strong tropical tuna measure from this commission meeting. “I mentioned earlier the priorities of FFA members going into this meeting and that is to maintain the strength of the tropical tuna measure and not to weaken the existing provisions,” Dr. Tupou-Roosen said.
She also commended United States' continued cooperation with the commission’s rules. “So we are confident that we will reach a successful resolution of the ongoing issue with the U.S.,” she said.
For the environmental groups PEW and WWF, the U.S. proposal is an “interesting idea,” especially in the context of it being an incentive to fishing nations to improve monitoring control and observer coverage."
“ We are fully in support of improving observership coverage [and] we also think that transshipment should be banned unless best practices are in place to ensure its verifiable and legal. And we see this incentive system as an interesting idea, however the commission needs to be careful that the overall catch of big-eye does not increase past the scientific advice,” Dave Gershman, Pew Charitable Trust Global Tuna conservation officer said.
“If you increase the catch of big-eye through one proposal, you need to kind of rein it in in a different way. If they can structure it in a way where it doesn't lead to an increase in big-eye catch then that would be the way to go but at this point, not sure about that.
Bubba Cook, WWF Western Central Pacific Tuna program manager said the U.S. proposal sends a strong statement that "if we have greater observer coverage and we’re able to get better refined data on these stocks, we may actually be able to catch more than what we’re catching right now.”
WCPFC chairperson Rhea Moss-Christian said that the U.S. approach is a “relatively new one,” she cannot determine yet how the commission members will respond to the proposal.