Pacific Islands members have pulled no punches on the critical state of Bluefin Tuna stocks in the Northern part of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean fishery, citing lack of progress from the Commissions Northern Committee as "nothing short of a management failure".
2016 stock assessments for Pacific Bluefin tuna confirm continued low stock levels, with the spawning stock biomass now at a perilously low level of 2.6% of unfished levels. In response, the Northern Committee at its September meeting in Japan(link is external) had recommended taking up a harvest strategy and catch limits- but not to be negotiated until next year.
There was a resounding rejection from the FFA bloc of the Northern Committee's hopeful projections and 'business as usual' scenario as their agenda item came up at the morning plenary marking the mid-way point of the annual Commission meeting. FFA members say the Northern Committee is not fulfilling its mandate, and raised their voices with enough momentum to force the Committee to reconvene at WCPFC13 and offer a solution to calm frustrations.
"The failure of the Northern Committee to sustainably manage the very stock they were set up to protect is quite frankly, bringing the whole of the WCPFC into disrepute," says FFA Director General James Movick. "FFA member countries have no role in that fishery, and its management has deliberately been kept separate - and we are now facing the consequences of international scorn for failing to manage the Bluefin fishery."
While any Commission decisions on this stock must be based on recommendations from the Northern Committee, some FFA members have gone so far as to imply that they will take the Bluefin decision to the Commission’s first ever vote if they have to.
He says the strong responses from FFA members in plenary at the deferred approach from the Northern Committee mirrored "strong frustrations from members that this decision making process from Northern Committee to Commission means we have a Convention which gives particular protection to the culture of inaction."
"The Northern Committee has failed to develop meaningful management recommendations and as a Commission, we failed to hold the Northern Committee to the same standards that are adopted for the other stocks we manage, and we have got to do better," FFA members told the Commission plenary.
Other fisheries stocks around the world have been slapped with commercial fisheries bans to bring them back from similar low levels. While the current management measure for Pacific Bluefin 2015-04 includes a requirement to develop emergency rules in in the event of a recruitment failure, the Northern Committee has failed to do so.
"Commission members from all sides, and the Northern Committee in particular, have been warned in no uncertain language, that Pacific nations haven't fished Bluefin because there is no Bluefin to fish. Saying it’s just too hard to address that challenge is simply not an option,” says Movick