Some news from the 12th session of the WCPFC in Bali / by Francisco Blaha

The WCPFC is the top body that makes the decisions in regards the tuna fisheries in the western pacific. The Commission holds annual meetings and is presided over by a Chairman and a Vice-Chairman, who are elected from amongst the membership and this year’s one just finished in Bali. Is at this level where you can see the confrontation in between fisheries science and management on one side and fisheries politics on the other… even if there is no a clear line in between them many times.

Some faces say it all... feeling for Rhea, Feleti and Lara... good people dealing with some very uncooperative ones (pic by FFA)

Some faces say it all... feeling for Rhea, Feleti and Lara... good people dealing with some very uncooperative ones (pic by FFA)

Decisions taken by the Commission are generally done by consensus. In cases where decisions have to be taken by vote, usually on substantive matters, a “two-chamber system” applies. The FFA members of the Commission comprise one chamber, while the non-FFA members form the other chamber. Decisions are taken by a three-fourths majority of those present and voting in each chamber and no proposal can be defeated by two or fewer votes in either chamber. This type of arrangement makes any substantial measure really hard to move forwards… as it gives the DWFN a huge say on matters that actually correspond to the Island Nations. On top of that you have the fisheries in the High Seas… normally the domain of the DWFN.

I have lot of admiration for my colleagues and friends that submit themselves to the grueling and frankly sometimes totally disheartening marathon meetings associated to these plenaries… I don't think I could do that type of work.

In this post, I will bring up some of the words and actions of friends/colleagues that were involved in this last session, as to exemplify some of the conflicts and topics covered. 

From start Executive Director Mr Feleti Teo said it is the collective responsibility of all members and stakeholders of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to contribute to the solutions to rebuild overfished tuna stocks like Bigeye and by taking immediate urgent action. Teo, who himself hails from the small island of Tuvalu, which is a member nation of the Parties to Nauru Agreement, said since he took over at the WCPFC he has consistently advocated that in light of the scientific advice “doing nothing” is not an option for the Commission. “The status quo is untenable because the future consequences significantly outweigh the short term benefit that current efforts and fishing practises offer,”

Chief Executive Officer for the PNA, Dr Transform Aqorau said:  "Tuna catches in the eight PNA 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs) have remained stable over the past five years, while catches on the high seas have increased dramatically over the same period for lack of control. Effort in the high seas has more than doubled in 2015. This is particularly troubling since purse seine bigeye catches in the high seas have been growing steadily, while purse seine bigeye catches in EEZs have been declining and catches in archipelagic waters have been steady. The anticipated large increases in bigeye catch on the high seas during 2015 can be expected to substantially damage the WCPFC’s bigeye conservation efforts.

Tuvalu has become the latest Parties to Nauru Agreement (PNA) member nation to implement the Vessel Day Scheme for its longline fishing industry, signing on to the scheme at the PNA meeting in Bali. Is only Kiribati that is not being collaborative to it for their own (and sometimes unexplainable) reasons

The Vessel Day Scheme recognizes that zone-based management is the way we want to manage our fisheries in the Pacific, and is based on the Purse seine model. We long know that the longline fishery is “out of control”, the approximately 3,000 longliners operating in the national and international waters have less than 5% observer coverage (vs 100% in the purseine),  and revenue to island nations has remained flat for 15 years, there is low reporting of tuna catch data, and high seas transshipment of tuna is the norm, which limits availability of catch data.

Note: Is very hard to get substantial observer coverage because the lengths of the trips, and the substantial difficulties in the living conditions on this vessels (the worst you can imagine). So we are working on this via video overseers (but this will come in another post) ☺

Papua New Guinea said that a notable concern for them at the current WCPFC annual meeting was fishing in the high seas and recommended urgent management intervention, they reiterated their call for effective and appropriate mechanisms to encourage member compliance with their obligations under the Conservation and Management Measures developed and adopted by the Commission. 

The High Seas and the Bigeye are perhaps the biggest disappointments of the meeting as PIC came away without a meaningful measure on tropical tuna species Bigeye, Skipjack and Yellowfin.
Both the chairperson Rhea Moss-Christian and the compliance manager Lara Manarangi-Trott tried hard to get WCPFC members to come to some common ground. But it was evident that certain DWFN (read China, Japan & Taiwan) were determined to derail the whole process. The plan to address the overfished status of bigeye tuna did not move forwards once again, as  the Commission has had to adhere to “consensus.”

Rhea made it clear from the onset that the status quo wasn’t an option: "We have been clear about our goals and our positions on the key issues before the Commission since we took up our roles this year. Our goals are not unknown to you. Given the lack of progress, we now need to consider other mechanisms. There will be some delegates here who would welcome a vote on the key issues before us. Others who don’t want change would obviously not welcome such a move. But it’s obvious the working groups are not reaching consensus in a way that delivers progress, so I am reviewing options for a conciliation process. This mechanism has precedent as a tool for moving things forward and may well benefit us here..." 

She called a special heads of delegation meeting to attempt to tackle blockages to agreement on action. Her intervention follows her warning late Friday that there may be a move to push the consensus driven body to its first-ever vote if progress isn’t made. She urged heads of delegation to prepare to compromise in order to bring about resolution to issues concerning the sustainability of tuna fisheries. She stepped into the process after deciding that the 40 members of the commission had not made sufficient process on conservation management methods with two days to the end of the meeting. Unfortunate to no avail…

some of the 2 faces of pacific tuna fishing

some of the 2 faces of pacific tuna fishing

For a good brief of the highs and lows, my colleague Wez Norris (deputy director of FFA and sempiternal lender of his diving gear to me) made a great summary at the end of the session and responded some question that I transcribe below (original here)

FFA members came here with four highest priorities, and four high priorities and really happy to note there has been good progress on three of the highest priorities and one of the high priorities. 

So the commission has adopted a conservation and management measure for a target reference point for skipjack tuna and that is a really fundamental measure on a fundamental stock. It paved the way for more robust and strategic management frameworks and it is a great pay off for the hard work and the leadership that, particularly, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement have put in. They have been working on this for a long time. It has cost them money to get together and talk about it. It has taken a lot of support from SPC, FFA and the PNA office so it is an excellent pay off there. I think it is also significant to note that the final proposal that was adopted was actually a joint proposal between FFA members and Japan. And that is significant because Japan’s concerns about range contraction in the skipjack stock have been a very contentious point of discussions throughout this week so the fact that Japan and FFA members managed to find ways in the text to accommodate those different views about that issue sort of speaks to the maturity of the relationship between Japan and the Pacific Island countries. So, as I say, that was one of our highest priorities and the fact that it has been adopted was really positive. 

Secondly the Commission has adopted the work plan on development of harvest strategies and I think I have been through the background to that before but basically what that is useful for now is that it provides guidance to all stakeholders on how the commission intends to develop these management frameworks over the next couple of years and in doing so it mainstreams a lot of the work that is being done on the edges, a lot of work that PNA members have done for their own purposes, that Tokelau Arrangement participants have done on albacore and so on so now it is more a part of the commission. 

The third of the highest priorities that we have had success on is the development of a revised compliance monitoring scheme so this is the process that the commission uses to assess the level of implementation and compliance of members, so are they going home and implementing the obligations they take on. This has been an evolving measure over the last couple of years and there are some very significant changes that have been done to it this year. Things like better reflecting the fact that in some cases there are obligations that small island developing states can’t implement because of lack of capacity. So finding a way for the Commission to actually recognise that and actually put in place plans to improve the capacity of the small island developing states so it can comply, rather than it be simply a punitive measure that badges people as non-compliant. 

Unfortunately our fourth top priority was the adoption of a target reference point for albacore tuna and we weren’t able to get any movement on that so obviously we are deeply disappointed that such an important stock is going to sort of lag behind a year in terms of the development of a harvest strategy. 

Having said that the results of the new stock assessment are very threatening and very different from our previous understanding of the albacore stock. And they talk about relatively significant reductions in catch that are required just to keep the stock where it is at the moment let alone to rebuild it to the level that the Tokelau arrangement participants want to see for reasons of fishery profitability. So in some ways the reluctance of the inability of the distant water fishing nations to sign up to that target reference point even as an interim is understandable but the fact is that this fishery is just so important to those Tokelau arrangement countries that they can’t afford for the management to simply lag because the science has changed or the results ae threatening. So basically what that means is we have got to go back to the drawing board. We will continue our work internally on the development of the catch management scheme under the Tokelau arrangement and we will be using our recommendation for the target reference pint as the basis for that. 

We had some very positive and pro-active announcements from the Cook Islands as part of the negotiations indicating their willingness to take the difficult decisions provided it was part of a package of agreements from others as well. So we will just be looking to build on that momentum and work internally. 

At the same time, you know, we are calling on the distant water fishing nations to do their home work; to go home and go through some of the detail that they said they weren’t quite comfortable with here and we are looking forward to more discussions at the science committee and at the Commission again next year. 

On the albacore fishery tho the Commission has adopted some amendments on the current conservation and management measure that seeks to manage that stock; relatively small improvements but improvements none the less. 

The compliance committee has been saying over the last couple of years that because of various ambiguities in the measure. They haven’t been able to adequately assess implementation and compliance. So what we proposed this year and what the commission has agreed to has been some improvements in the data reporting requirements. So flag states will be required to provide a much greater level of detail than they ever have in the past. And that will give us a much better idea on what has happened in the last 10 years or so of the fisheries operations and where it is going from here on in. So, as I say, relatively small improvements but ones that will give us a better picture as to what is going on. In the meantime we have that internal wok going on catch management schemes and so on. So it is great that the other flag states were able to come on board and agree to those measures, because we have been proposing measures year after year since 2010 without success so this is at least a positive sign for the future. 

Unfortunately we didn’t gain any traction on our other three second-tier priorities, high priorities. The first one was a proposal to ban transhipment in the four high seas pockets in the convention area and one semi enclosed area between Kiribati, Tuvalu and Tokelau and that is a real shame because these areas are known IUU risks. 

Transhipment in those areas is known to be a risk of illegal fishing, in that vessels that are in there are operating under a lower degree of scrutiny than vessels that are operating in the EEZ’s that surround them, they are allowed to undertake transhipment under relatively loose oversight from their flag states and there has been a lot of evidence provided that vessels that are operating in those areas are not operating in accordance with all the rules of the commission. So it is a great shame that other commission members were unable to support that and it is very worrying that these flag states remain far more interested in defending the operational convenience of their vessels rather than putting in place proper management measures and enforcing those management measures. 

Equally, we are very frustrated that our proposal on Port State Measures wasn’t accepted. So our proposal was to strengthen the controls that each country uses when foreign vessels come into their ports in terms of the levels of inspection and information and communication sharing. We have worked hard over the last two years to try and develop a measure that is robust and meaningful but also addresses the elements of the FAO Port States measures that a lot of countries don’t like. So there is a global instrument agreed by the FAO on port State measures. FFA members have certain problems with that instrument and other commission members do as well so we have been trying to find the right balance between the elements that we do like out of it and avoiding the issues.

Unfortunately for at least some members we are still not there yet and so partially we are calling on them to tell us what more we can do to the measure to make it acceptable to them but partially also we will have to turn our view inwards now and simply work among ourselves as FFA members on our own measure for port state control because it has been two years now that we have been proposing this and we can’t simply avoid taking the management reforms for our ports just simply because we are waiting for a decision from the commission. 

Then, last but by no means least, the commission has again failed to improve on the management of the tropical tuna fisheries and in particular to take additional steps to reduce the fishing mortality on bigeye tuna. The lack of agreement does belie the level of effort that went into it. There was a serious effort on behalf of all embers and particularly led by the chair to get a deal done. And there was an emerging deal that had some potential to get through. Unfortunately where the commission fell down which is nothing new is trying to find the right balance between those countries that have purse seine interest and those countries that have longline interests. And the commission members simply couldn’t find the right balance. 

Now this is a particularly important issue for the FFA members and in particular the PNA members because it comes back down to this concept of disproportionate burden; the FAD closures which are one of the main components of the measure transfer what we call a disproportionate burden onto the small island developing states. It means they are suffering a cost that far outweighs the costs that are being borne by other commission members and far outweighs the benefits that they get for the conservation of bigeye tuna. So that is why PNA have been proposing a package of measures to improve the longline measures and to improve the purse seine measures because until you do start to get a better balance between the flow of costs and benefits then it is going to be very, very difficult, well impossible, to talk about further reductions in the purse seine fishery. 

The package of measures that the PNA members put on the table at the start of the meeting were used by the chair as the basis for her endeavours to secure an agreement, and as I say, the difference and the divergence between the two groups have meant it was just too much and there is very different perceptions about what is a fair contribution between each fishery depending on which country you talk to. So that is a deeply frustrating situation and what it really highlights, yet again is the fact that the way that the way the WCPFC approaches the management of fisheries needs to be fundamentally reviewed. 

The measure that is on the table is the product of negotiations over at least a ten year period and so it contains a real mix of measures; some measures are zone based, like it reflects the vessel day scheme for the regulation of purse seine effort. Other measures are FAD based, like the FAD closures and the FAD set limits which each flag state, Japan, Korea, and Chinese Taipei gets to decide on how they manage their fleet  and when you have that system of flag limits superimposed over exclusive economic zones you create lots of anomalies. You create the need for things like SIDs exemptions, because small island developing states as flag states, they are only just building their fleets now so they don’t have 50 years of catch history to fall back on like the developed fleets so it just doesn’t work. So we need to be doing things like moving towards establishing rights that are zonal rather than flag-based. This is nothing new. It is exactly what the vessel day scheme is. It is exactly what the longline vessel day scheme is and the emerging catch management scheme under the Tokelau arrangement for albacore. So these are the types of more strategic discussions that need to be happening now. It is quite clear that simply the concept of amending this paragraph is not going to work. We have tried it the last two years without any movement at all so now we need to step back and say ‘how are we going to manage these fisheries?’ 

The commission has agreed that a new strategic plan will be developed for the WCPFC and we think that is an excellent idea and we think that will be a really good vehicle for the WCPFC to have some of this higher level debate, and to have it not focussed on the context of how to manage bigeye tuna, to have it as a more strategic thing about ‘how should we be going about our job?’

Bigeye stocks
It is always very difficult for the science community to predict the outcomes of any management measure, particularly one as complicated as this. It has got so many moving parts. So many choices that different countries can make on how they do things but the modelling that SPC has done that under any combination of the options that are available to all the countries the measure is not going to achieve its objectives. Its objectives are to remove the overfishing of the bigeye; so to reduce the fishing mortality to the levels which will produce maximum sustainable yield. 
Having said that it does clearly show that the measure is having a positive impact; it has reduced FAD sets, it has reduced longline catches and it has improved the amount of information that is available. The modelling also suggests that the measures that are in place right now will contribute to increasing the spawning biomass so as you say the spawning biomass at the moment is at 16 per cent of unfished levels and the measure that is in place will assist that to rebuild. The issue is ‘does it do so strongly enough?’ and the answer clearly is ‘no’. So in terms of overall effectiveness what is really needed is a relatively minor series of improvements but unfortunately because of the evolution of the measure those minor improvements are turning out to be impossible to agree to. So I think overall, the outlook in the short-term is not overly pessimistic. We will see a stock improvement but it is not a stock improvement anyone would go boasting about. So the commission really does have its work cut out for it to say ‘well, this measure expires by 2017. By this time we have to have a really good idea on how we are going to fix this thing. 

There are programs in the wings that will contribute to this. The PNA members are commencing a FAD charging trial as of 1st January and what this endeavours to do is use market forces to regulate fishing behaviour. So any day you go fishing and you set on a FAD you pay an extra fee basically and so basically what that does is force the vessel operator to choose ‘is it worth me setting on this FAD? Am I going to catch that much more fish and earn that much more money, that makes it worthwhile paying this fee?’ And eventually over time we see these sorts of market based measures as replacing some of the regulatory measures so we’ve got a four month FAD closure in place at the moment at some stage we hope it can go down to a 3 month FAD closure because FAD sets generally are being reduced by this economic 

not in the high seas... but a transhipment nevertheless 

not in the high seas... but a transhipment nevertheless 

High Seas Transhipments
There’s been a lot of discussion on transhipment throughout the week both in the context of the Tropical Tuna Measure and our proposal on the high seas pockets and it’s really disappointing. The convention itself talks about reducing, as far as possible, transhipment. The CMM that was agreed in 2009 sets a very high bar for what you have to satisfy before you allow your vessels to tranship on the high seas. And that hasn't been lived up to by the major flag states. There are blanket exemptions they have issued that allow their vessels to continue fishing and the argument they use is simply one of convenience and economics.

The vessels don’t want to steam from the high seas into ports where they can be monitored and be properly observed. It is as simple as that! And sure there is an argument for that, no one is going to volunteer to do that, but it is certainly possible for fleets to do that. Let me use the EU Longline fleet as an example. It fishes a lot on the high seas. It conducts all of its transhipment in port because the EU makes them. So they have to steam from their fishing grounds into port and unload where they can be properly monitored and so on. It certainly can be done and flag states have an obligation to move down that path and they are really not doing it at the moment so this is going to be a big ticket item for next year. 

I think as we've seen with our proposal this year to ban transhipment in that area not being successful, we can expect a fairly prolonged and bitter resistance to it but that doesn't mean it’s not a good idea and it doesn't mean we shouldn't invest the time to start it. None of these things can happen overnight and none of them should happen overnight so again, it’s a matter of working with the DWFNs that are using those areas, and trying to work out where there are avenues where we can pull different levers.

Port State Measures
One of the issues we have faced internally is making sure that before you sign up to an obligation to have certain levels and standards of inspection, to make sure that you've actually got the capacity to do those. And so in the measure that we've crafted it provides the avenue for SIDS to build up that capacity and then take on the obligations. That has been the main concern in the past. The sort of chicken and egg type thing. 

There is absolute commitment to improving monitoring. The FFA members already have the most fundamental of the monitoring systems in the pacific, probably 80% of the log-sheet data that is available to the SPC comes from FFA members collecting it from vessels observers are all provided by the member countries the VMS is run from Honiara and so on. So they have a long history of being prepared to implement monitoring systems even in their own scrutiny over their own ports or their own fleets. 

State of the Pacific Ports
Most of the major ports in the region used by foreign vessels are in FFA members. They have very busy ports like Majuro, Pohnpei Funafuti and Tarawa. And so when you've got literally hundreds of vessels doing port calls a year if you're required to do a minimum level of inspection then you need a decent pool of inspectors you need the computer systems to be able to handle the data they are collecting and so on and so forth so I think it would be fair to say they all have concerns about their ability to increase that none of them have extra inspectors that are just sitting around at the moment. 

Jobs and Resourcing
Under the Roadmap for the Future of Fisheries the Pacific islands leaders adopted in Port Moresby earlier this year we have a goal of doubling the employment in the fishing related industry and that is obviously largely in the private sector through employment and processing facilities and employment on fishing vessels but managing fisheries is getting more and more complex and therefore its taking more and more people and so yeah the development of Port State Measures that require highly trained and highly skilled inspectors is a good boost to employment. The observer program is now a very large employer there’s over 800 observers in the region and they are relatively well paid positions and so on. 

Thefuture of processing in the pacific is going to face some quite significant challenges. We have a very large number of forces acting against the ease of development. The tyranny of distance, where product that is processed in the Pacific has to travel further to get to markets, we have issues where labour costs in most PI countries are higher than SE Asia, utility costs like electricity are higher and so on. But the huge advantage that the PICs have is the raw material. They control the supply of most of the world’s raw (tuna) material and so they certainly have the ability to regulate where that goes and where it gets processed and with the right type of investors and the right type of commercial partnerships, you can make that work. You can make the supply of raw material that you own to processing facilities that you have some sort of an interest in, and make it economical. Obviously market preferences are very important and that is an ongoing body of work both with existing markets and new ones to try and sort of develop more avenues than we have at the moment.  

tuna: many want it... few have it... no one wants to pay its real price.

tuna: many want it... few have it... no one wants to pay its real price.

The main issue we have with China is about the reform of the albacore fishery. On the one hand it was very positive they were able to agree to the additional data reporting requirements in the CMM but on the other hand they are just finishing this very large fleet expansion program and obviously that its inconsistent with our push to reduce catch in the fishery to achieve the TRP. So our call to them is to find a way to work with us, find a way we can sit down together and we can talk about the importance of the albacore fishery to the Pacific island countries and more importantly, we can talk about the opportunities for a partnership approach in trying to manage it.

Simply avoiding management is not in anyone’s interests; it’s not in the interests of the Chinese fleet because while they may be operating economically at the moment if the stock continues to decline they certainly won’t be. It’s certainly not to the advantage of the FFA members because they are reliant on these fisheries and we’ve already got fleets tied up. So yeah, our call to them is just work with us. And at some point every country needs to embrace the science. If we all simply ignore the science, or pretend the science is incorrect, then we will watch the fishery go down the gurgler. And there is a litany of failed fisheries around the world where fisheries managers have done exactly that so were calling on them to embrace the science if there are legitimate issues with it, then let’s work them. Let’s work them in the SC and in the commission but let’s roll up our sleeves and get something done on albacore. 

China's Fleet Expansion
Unfortunately because of the lack of the data reporting requirements that have been in the CMM up until now we don’t have a clear picture on exactly what vessels have come in and where they’ve been. But we do know the Chinese fleets have expanded by 400 vessels and these are 400 new efficient vessels, they are quite small, they are fibreglass. They have low operating costs but the ability to set very large numbers of hooks so you can have a look at the catch data for the Chinese fleet....which I can pull up for you if you like and it has expended tens of thousands of tonnes in the last 5 years. So they've done this huge ramp up which they've been very transparent about but that doesn't really help us in a fishery where were trying to put the brakes on and trying to actually pull back on, having one player just quite brazenly expanding their fleet that makes it difficult to achieve some kind of consensus type management. 

The political relationships that China is trying to build probably pave the way for us try and address their fisheries approach because it is one avenue where, as I say, they could take a partnership approach and that would then have benefits both the fisheries and to the geopolitical relationship. We look at partnerships at two levels and there are obviously political partnerships and there are certain implications of that when it comes to China but then there are also commercial partnerships and even in countries that don’t have a recognition with China there are Chinese companies investing and operating in those countries and so there still is a platform of cooperation there. 

FFA Japan relationship
I wouldn't say that Japan and FFA members are always on the same page but we have a very mature relationship of being able to sit down and work through issues and Japan makes a really concerted effort to understand the positions that FFA members take and to find a way to work with them. We don’t have that level of relationship with some of the other CCMs and in particular China, Chinese Taipei and Korea. And that’s no criticism to them, that’s obviously our responsibility as well, to build those relationships and to work out how to cooperate better with them. 

In the past we’ve endeavored to arrange informal visits where either the FFA secretariat or a small group of members will visit whoever it is we are trying to build a relationship with. On other occasions we’ve invited reps down to meet with the FFC when it’s meeting in annual meetings and so on. So I think there are a number of ways of doing it but the lesson were learning is don’t wait until the WCPFC meeting to try and cooperate with each other. This has to be done well before so that people...lots of people when they arrive here they've got their formal position and so we need to make sure that those formal positions accommodate a level of cooperation with us already.