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Trouble Brewing in the Pacific – Part 3 of 3

December 21, 2010
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So here’s the big worry: the WCPFC will be unable to stop overfishing, as a result reducing the incomes of many poor fishermen and greatly damaging the marine environment.

The first big test for the WCPFC came up in 2008.  That year, facing overfishing of bigeye tuna, the WCPFC agreed to reduce fishing effort on bigeye by 10% per year over three years. And yet, the 2009 fishing season resulted in a bigeye catch that was the second highest on record and 61% higher than the scientifically recommended levels.  Equally worrisome, the spawning stock of bigeye tuna in the western and central Pacific is believed to be at just 17% of pre-fishing levels.

Given the worrisome status of the bigeye stock, more aggressive measures to stop overfishing were expected to be made this year.   In fact, the commission’s own scientists warned that the stock of bigeye are so diminished as to require an immediate 30% cut in catch to avoid collapse.

The 2010 WCPFC meeting ran Dec. 6-10 in Honolulu.   Scientific studies were presented, proposals were debated, and then…not much happened.    That’s not to say no one tried to do the right thing.

A group of eight Pacific Island Countries called the “Parties to the Nauru Agreement” (PNA) put forward proposals and four global conservation NGOs put forward suggestions and tried to draw more attention to the ongoing problems.  See here for details.

Ultimately, South Korea and the EU blocked all attempts to improve bigeye conservation, and the US – usually a force for conservation – kept its mouth shut.

The saving grace is that the PNA countries are going to unilaterally enforce these measures.  These countries have the richest tuna resources in the region, making  fishing licenses for their exclusive waters quite valuable.  From the start of next year all licenses from those eight countries will be issued with strict conditions to keep bigeye fishing in check.

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement are Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

The move by the PNA will probably be effective, but this still does not solve the decision-making problem in the WCPFC.  Measures should have been taken, but a requirement for consensus decision-making  and the narrow interests of the EU (really just Spain) and South Korea means they weren’t.

Is this the future of most all bigeye?

Or this?

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