Getting ready for 13th session of the WCPFC / by Francisco Blaha

This is a busy time for the Pacific fisheries administrators, as they gear up in meetings going through a long list of proposals at their final round of preparatory sessions in Nadi this week before they meet with the big fishing nations on December 5th for the 13th Session of the WCPFC.



My friends in FFA work quite hard to try to find common approaches among its members, to put on the table proposals for CMM (Conservation and Management Measures) that should become "law" among their members. So the Officials from the 17 member nations are spending this week working through the detail and discussing strategic engagement on each proposed measure they have tabled.

Accordingly to FFA's inside news, WCPFC 13 will look at a substantive list including those from the Pacific focused around improving ways to roll out a Harvest Strategy Approach aimed at better management measures covering regional tuna stocks - Bigeye, Yellowfin, Albacore and Skipjack. Fisheries Officials from the 17 member nations of the Forum Fisheries Agency are spending this week working through the detail and discussing strategic engagement on each proposed measure they have tabled.

 While FFA members are firmly committed to the Harvest Strategy Approach, they are fully aware that comprehensive harvest strategies for all the key tuna species will take a number of years. So FFA members are turning their minds to putting in place strong interim arrangements for tropical tuna stocks as well as albacore that will stay in place until full harvest strategies are complete. One of their key focuses has been preparing for the development of new Tropical Tuna measure to replace the existing measure that expires at the end of 2017.

Observer safety proposed as a CMM by the US at WCPFC12, has also been highlighted as a key concern for the FFA bloc, who gave the issue of the safety and welfare of Fisheries Observers high priority during their July Ministerial in Vanuatu. All of the observers in the pacific are locals, hence is a simple message "these are our people and they must be afforded safe and harmonious working conditions".  The US drafted a CMM on Observer Safety that is tabled, but Pacific nations have a number of outstanding issues and concerns.  So they will have to work with others to support adoption at the Commission table.”

Proposals from the 17-country FFA bloc to the WCPFC13 cover:

Target Reference Point for South Pacific Albacore- Establishment of a Target Reference Point for the stock to provide an agreed target for the management of the fishery. Citing the SPC science showing that continued current fishing levels will result in further decline of the stock, FFA members say reductions in catch and effort are necessary to ensure a healthy stock and profitable albacore fishery. Another proposal by FFA members seeks to separate South Pacific Albacore from the proposed new Tropical Tuna CMM and create a standalone albacore CMM that limits the total catch of albacore.

Rules for High Seas areas –Backed up by the findings of the Pacific IUU report, FFA members are back with revisions to a proposal tabled at WCPFC12 seeking better fisheries management for the six High Seas areas in the WCPO. Fisheries management on the high seas of the WCPFC is one of the highest responsibilities of the Commission, as per article 8.4 of its founding convention. The proposed High Seas Areas CMM aims to strengthen the management of the Longline fishery and complement the rules for purse seine vessels covering transshipment at sea, and the PNA licensing condition preventing licensed vessels from fishing in the two western high seas pockets.

 Harvest Strategy Levels of risk (interim) FFA members propose this measure to provide a ‘starting point’ for the acceptable levels of risk of breaching limit reference points for yellowfin, skipjack, and south Pacific albacore. It’s a highly technical element of the harvest strategy approach, but is necessary to guide further work on the Harvest Strategy Workplan adopted by the WCPFC last year, and is aimed at helping Commission members decide how it will design harvest control rules and set target reference points.

Enhanced Port-based Monitoring, Control and Surveillance: FFA members are building on their 2015 proposal and flagging a revised version seeking enhanced port based MCS Initiatives to assist with procedures and capacity of Pacific nations to meet their obligations as Port States. The proposal also targets IUU- hoping to nab fish traceability and documentation gaps aboard licensed vessels dodging the rules for reporting.

As my colleague James Movick (FFA's boss) said: “There is little doubt among the Pacific nations that getting any proposal over the line involves focused, strategic engagement with an ability to recognise opportunities and read shifting positions. This is the annual negotiation meeting upon which the future of the pacific Tuna fishery rests, and FFA members remain committed to ensuring meaningful outcomes. Achieving that remains a major challenge.”

I salute all my friends and colleagues at the sessions, I truly support and admire their efforts for the "full on" next couple of weeks they have.

Kia kaha! (Maori for "Be Strong " in the meaning of offering encouragement to succeed when troubled)