Governance and tuna related institutions in the Pacific (Part 1) / by Francisco Blaha

Unless you are an insider, is really hard to understand "who does what" in the governance and management of tuna in the Pacific, this blog post hope to share some light on that, as it is complex. The key players of the governance and fishery management framework for tuna and related species in the WCPO include:

  1. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC)
  2. The Parties to the Nauru Agreement, known as PNA or the Nauru Group
  3. FFA and SPC that are regional organisations that provide management services to its member countries, the WCPFC and the PNA.
  4. The national governments

 I'll start with the role of the commission (WCPFC) and PNA.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC)

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) was established by the Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPF Convention) which entered into force on 19 June 2004. The Convention was concluded after six years of negotiation which commenced in 1994. The period between the conclusion of the Convention and its entry into force was taken up by a series of Preparatory Conferences that laid the foundations for the Commission to commence its work.

The WCPF Convention draws on many of the provisions of the UN Fish Stocks Agreement [UNFSA] while, at the same time, reflecting the special political, socio-economic, geographical and environmental characteristics of the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) region. The WCPFC Convention seeks to address problems in the management of high seas fisheries resulting from unregulated fishing, over-capitalization, excessive fleet capacity, vessel re-flagging to escape controls, insufficiently selective gear, unreliable databases and insufficient multilateral cooperation in respect to conservation and management of highly migratory fish stocks.

A framework for the participation of fishing entities in the Commission which legally binds fishing entities to the provisions of the Convention, participation by territories and possessions in the work of the Commission, recognition of special requirements of developing States, and cooperation with other Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMO) whose respective areas of competence overlap with the WCPFC reflect the unique geo-political environment in which the Commission operates.

The Commission supports three subsidiary bodies; the Scientific Committee, Technical and Compliance Committee, and the Northern Committee, that each meet once during each year. The meetings of the subsidiary bodies are followed by a full session of the Commission. The work of the Commission is assisted by a Finance and Administration Committee.

Members: Australia, China, Canada, Cook Islands, European Union, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, Republic of Korea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Chinese Taipei, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States of America, Vanuatu.
Participating Territories: American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, French Polynesia, Guam, New Caledonia, Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna.
Cooperating Non-member(s): Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Liberia, Thailand, Vietnam.

How is WCPFC governed?
The Convention establishes a governing body known as the Commission which is comprised of representatives from members, cooperating non-members and participating territories (collectively, CCMs). The Commission holds annual meetings and is presided over by a Chairman and a Vice-Chairman, who are elected from amongst the membership.

Four subsidiary bodies support the work of the Commission and meet in the months prior to the annual meeting, which is always held in December.

  • The Scientific Committee (SC) meets in August and ensures that the Commission has the best available scientific information on which to consider appropriate conservation and management measures. The Scientific Committee utilizes the services of expert fisheries scientists and its meetings usually comprise scientific and other related technical representatives. The SC also coordinates with the Technical and Compliance Committee on certain matters to ensure consistent advice is provided to the Commission.
  • The Technical and Compliance Committee (TCC) meets in October and is the “enforcement” committee of the Commission. The TCC reviews members’ adherence to Commission decisions and monitors individual countries’ implementation of those measures. The TCC also makes recommendations to the Commission with respect to encouraging, improving and enforcing compliance by members with the decisions of the Commission.
  • The Northern Committee (NC) meets in September and makes recommendations to the Commission on species that are mostly found in the Convention Area north of 20 degrees north. Unlike the SC and the TCC, not all members of the Commission are represented on the NC. Although participation in the NC is limited to those members that are located in the area north of 20 degrees north, or are fishing in this area, any member of the Commission may participate in NC meetings as an observer. Any decisions the Commission takes on species under the purview of the NC must be based on recommendations from the NC.
  • The Finance and Administration Committee meets annually along with the Commission meeting and deliberates over the Commission’s budget. All Commission members are represented on the Finance and Administration Committee and recommendations are forwarded to the Commission for adoption.

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.

How does WCPFC promote compliance?
The Convention establishes a requirement for each member to establish and maintain a record of fishing vessels that are authorised to fish in the Convention Area beyond that member’s area of national jurisdiction. The Secretariat maintains a central database of each member’s authorised list of fishing vessels, which acts as a verification tool to ensure that fishing vessels are legally operating in the Convention Area.

The WCPFC establishes a number of monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) programme to promote compliance by Commission members with conservation and management measures and other decisions of the Commission (such as in relation to requirements concerning data submission). One such programme is the Regional Observer Programme (ROP), which manages the placement of personnel on board fishing vessels to observe and collect data on fishing operations. Data collected by observers is critical in assessing the effectiveness of measures, as well as providing scientists with important fishery independent information on the size and weight of species taken. In addition, the role of an observer can be useful in ensuring compliance, through verification of fishing information such as vessel location, time of year and species caught.

Complementing the ROP is the Commission’s vessel monitoring system (VMS). Vessels fishing in the Convention Area are required to install a transmitting device known as an Automatic Location Communicator (ALC), which transmits a signal to a land-based receiving station where fisheries managers can view and track the location of fishing vessels. This tool allows fisheries managers to better promote compliance with any area closures or restrictions that may be in place at any given time. It also helps scientists and managers understand the nature of fishing operations and where fishing is taking place. The Commission’s VMS became operational in April 2009. 

A third important MCS element is the boarding and inspection of fishing vessels on the high seas by patrol vessels registered with the Commission by CCMs. These patrol vessels conduct routine operations throughout the Pacific Ocean. Under an important measure adopted by the Commission, members have agreed to allow their fishing vessels to be boarded and inspected by the patrol vessels of other members. Patrol vessels provide the Commission with an important tool with which to monitor and in some situations, take action against, fishing violations on the high seas.

Another critical component in the Commission’s compliance toolbox is the list of vessels that have engaged in Illegal, Unregulated or Unreported (IUU) activities. Vessels that have been found, through sufficient evidence, to have committed violations as described by the Commission, are placed on what is known as an “IUU List”. Members are prohibited from engaging in fishing activities or other related transactions with vessels that are on the IUU List, which can act as a strong incentive for countries to closely monitor and regulate the activities of their fishing vessels.

The Nauru Agreement Concerning Cooperation in the Management of Fisheries of Common Interest, or The Nauru Agreement is an Oceania subregional agreement between the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. The eight signatories collectively control 25–30% of the world's tuna supply and approximately 60% of the western and central Pacific tuna supply.

Historically, the Nauru Agreement and other joint fishery management Arrangements made by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (usually referred to as PNA) have been concerned mainly with the management of tuna purse-seine fishing in the tropical western Pacific.

In October 2010, the eight member states Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) extended their prohibition on tuna purse-seine fishing in approximately 4.5 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean high seas by purse-seine vessels licensed to fish in their combined Exclusive Economic Zones. The extension was unveiled at the 6th meeting of the Technical and Compliance Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

Other recent actions by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement include a prohibition on setting purse-seine nets around whale sharks, a ban on fishing near fish aggregation devices during the months of July, August and September (with an option to extend this for up to an additional three months if scientific advice suggests that tuna stocks would benefit), a requirement for 100% observer coverage aboard purse-seiners, a minimum mesh-size, and a requirement for retention of all catch of tuna on board (no discards).

The full range of fishery management instruments implemented by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement includes:
The Federated States of Micronesia Arrangement: which defines a multilateral licensing arrangement providing annual access to all PNA EEZs by purse-seine vessels which contribute significantly to the enhancement of a PNA country's (the Home Party) economic involvement in the fishery.
The Palau Arrangement: which formerly set an agreed, binding, limit on the number of purse-seine vessels allowed to operate in PNA waters. The Palau Arrangement, through the Palau Arrangement Purse-seine Vessel Days Management Scheme, now limits the amount of effort (in terms of number of fishing days) that can be exercised by purse-seine vessels in PNA waters during any one calendar year. A Longline Vessel Days Management Scheme is currently under trial.
The Implementing Arrangements of the Nauru Agreement: There have been three of these, defining the measures that have been agreed by all Parties that will be implemented in the management of the activities of purse-seine vessels in their own EEZs, either through Regulations or licensing conditions. These include the measures highlighted above, such as the requirement not to licence any purse-seine vessel which also fishes in certain defined High Seas areas (High Seas Pockets).

These PNA-specific measures are also supplemented by the Harmonized Minimum Terms and Conditions for Access to FFA member EEZs by Foreign Fishing Vessels, agreed by all FFA member countries including the Parties to the Nauru Agreement. These terms and conditions apply to all foreign fishing vessels, not just purse-seiners, and include a requirement for an Automatic Location Communicator to be switched on at all times and reporting to the regional Vessel Monitoring System, minimum standards for reporting to national authorities, and a requirement for annual regional vessel registration.

In May 2012 the PNA Fisheries Ministers met in Alotau, Papua New Guinea, and through a Resolution on Marine Animals  gave their commitment to implement even stronger management measures in their joint EEZs order to maintain sustainable tuna fisheries and minimise impact on bycatch species. The new commitments include:

  • Establishing a PNA Observer Agency by 1 January 2013 to improve efficiency of national observer programmes in maintaining 100% independent observer coverage aboard purse-seine fishing vessels in PNA waters;
  • Adopting the MSC Implementation Plan, including fast-tracking an agreement on Precautionary Reference Points and Harvest Control Rules for the PNA free-school skipjack purse-seine fishery, as required to maintain MSC Certification (see below);
  • Approving work on developing a FAD registration and tracking scheme to be trialled in 2016, in collaboration with the Pew Environment Group

Agreeing an amendment to the Palau Arrangement Purse-seine Vessel Days Management Scheme that provides a clear and unambiguous definition of the Fishing Day. In particular, clarifying that any calendar day in which any fishing activity takes place will be counted as a full fishing day, with limited exemptions for days in which the only activities during that day are bona-fide emergencies, breakdowns, refuelling, repairs, or expeditious transit with fully stowed fishing gear (non fishing days). Ministers also approved a PNA Office Business Plan, and welcomed Tokelau as a party to the Palau Arrangement Purse-Seine Vessel Days Management Scheme.

Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) is a scheme where vessel owners can purchase and trade days fishing at sea in places subject to PNA. The purpose of the VDS is to constrain and reduce catches of target tuna species, and increase the rate of return from fishing activities through access fees paid by Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs).  The total allocation of fishing days is set and apportioned between Pacific Island members for one-year periods up to three years in advance. 

The VDS is implemented as part of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) Conservation and Management Measure for Bigeye and Yellowfin Tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (CMM2005-01). The VDS replaces the purse seine vessel number         limit of 205 vessels under Annex 1 of the Palau Arrangement for the Management of the Western Pacific Purse Seine Fishery (Palau Arrangement). The Palau Arrangement is a multilateral treaty governing the operation of purse seine vessels in the national waters of the PNA.  Its primary purpose is to place a limit on the number of vessels operating in the waters of the PNA. Under the VDS Management Scheme the PNA set the total number of days that can be fished in their waters combined and the apportionment of the total number of days between each country.  These allocations of fishing days are set for 12 month periods and can be set up to 3-years in advance.  The most recent stock assessment information on the target species of Skipjack, Yellowfin and Bigeye tuna and economic information relating to the maximisation of economic returns and optimal utilisation of the resource is used to assess the allocations of fishing days.

If you think I miss or misunderstood something please let me know. :-)