Summary of WCPFC’s Twelfth Scientific Committee Meeting / by Francisco Blaha

The Scientific Committee Meetings of the WCPFC are where the status of the tuna stocks are discussed for the members to make the management decisions, and while some advances are made, normally the member that loses the most is the tuna.

 Catch in mt of the 4 main species in the WCP

Catch in mt of the 4 main species in the WCP

This year the meeting took place from the 3-11 August 2016 in Bali, Indonesia and was attended by around 150 participants. The text below is quoted from FFA's Trade News, a very good bimonthly summary produced by my colleague Len Rodwell.

An overview of the WCPO tuna fisheries was provided using the latest scientific data available. In 2015, the total provisional tuna catch in the WCPF-Convention Area (WCPF-CA) was estimated at 2,687,840 mt, the third highest on record, accounting for 80% of total Pacific Ocean catch (3,379,789 mt) and 56% of global tuna catch (4,799,697 mt).

In terms of gear type, the purse seine fishery accounted for 68% of the total WCPO catch (1,766,070 mt), which was the fifth highest catch on record, but more than 280,000 mt less than 2014, largely due to reduced fishing effort. The longline catch declined below both the 2014 level and the last five-years’ average to 243,547mt, and represented 9% of the total tuna catch. Pole and line catch for 2015 (228,129 mt) remained amongst the lowest annual catches for the fishery since its peak in the late 1960s.

In terms of species, skipjack accounted for 68% of the total WCPO catch, yellowfin 22.5%, bigeye 5% and albacore 4.5%.

The WCPO tuna catch for 2015 was valued at US $4.77 billion, which was a decline from $5.78 billion in 2014 (and the previous two years), due to a reduction in catches and fish prices for all four tuna species. Capacity in the purse seine fishery continues to expand since pre-2007 levels when the vessel day scheme was introduced - 279 purse seine vessels actively fished in 2015 vs. 228 in 2007; total gross registered tonnage was 440,000 mt in 2015 vs. 300,000 in 2007; total well capacity was 380,000 m3 in 2015 vs. 250,000 m3 in 2007. While total purse seine effort in 2015 was 15% lower than recent years, the fishing effort and catch on unassociated (free-school) sets relative to drifting FAD sets increased by 72% and 59% respectively.

Catch per unit effort (CPUE) for purse seine-caught skipjack continues to increase, averaging around 35 mt/day for all fleets, but reaching as high as 50 mt/day for the Korean fleet vs. around 28-30mt/day for the US, Japanese and Taiwanese fleets. Strong

El Niño conditions were sustained in 2015 which resulted in the majority of catch occurring east of 160°E and partially explaining the lowest bigeye catch by purse seiners since 2007 (48,772 mt).

A new stock assessment was released for skipjack which yielded results broadly similar to the 2014 assessment. The WCPO skipjack stock remains healthy, but fishing mortality is approaching maximum sustainable yield (MSY). Scientists recommend that management action is taken to avoid further increases in fishing mortality to maintain stocks around the target reference point (50% of unfished spawning biomass).

Japan raised concerns that the latest assessment does not adequately take into account range contraction of the skipjack stock which it believes is negatively impacting skipjack catches in Japan’s coastal waters. Studies to date do not support this theory.

Bigeye, yellowfin and albacore stocks were not formally assessed in 2016, with stock status’ and management advice reported in line with the last assessments. Bigeye remains overfished with overfishing occurring, with a 36% reduction in fishing morality from 2008-2011 average levels recommended to return catch levels to MSY and allow the stock to rebuild above the limit reference point (20% unfished spawning biomass).

Yellowfin stocks remain healthy, with a recommendation that catches not be increased above the 2012 level and measures implemented to maintain current spawning biomass levels until a target reference point is agreed. Given high fishing mortality of yellowfin in several tropical regions, scientists recommend that spatial management approaches also be considered.

South Pacific albacore also remains healthy, but it is recommended that longline catches be reduced to avoid further declines of the stock and ensure economically viable catch rates can be maintained. Both silky shark and oceanic white tip shark stocks remain in an overfished state, with overfishing occurring.

Improvements in data provision were noted, with the majority of Commission Members and Cooperating Non-Members (CCMs) providing annual catch estimates for 2015 by the deadline. Japan provided operational data for the first time for 2015 and Korea and China for the second year running. Several CCMs are still yet to provide aggregated and/or operational level catch and effort data for key tuna species and sharks.

Under management issues, SC12 noted that WCPFC13 is scheduled to record management objectives for each fishery/stock as part of the development of a harvest strategy framework. To help progress this task, the WCPFC Chair has circulated draft management objectives (biological, social, economic and ecosystem-based) for consideration by CCMs, based on ‘strawman’ discussions held during the second Management Options Workshop in 2013. WCPFC13 is also scheduled to agree on a target reference point for South Pacific albacore (FFA members propose 45% of unfished spawning biomass).

Analysis was presented at SC12 of three management alternatives to achieve a 45% TRP by 2033, with an early effort reduction (immediate 53% cut from 2013 level) identified as the most economically viable option vs. break-even scenarios of a delayed reduction until 2024 (49% effort cut on 2013 level in 2024) and a spread reduction (3% annual reduction from 2013-2033).

The Scientific Committee was also tasked to determine a “biologically reasonable timeframe” for bigeye stock recovery. An analysis of five rebuilding scenarios over 30 years indicated only a full fishing closure would enable the stock to rebuild within the average generation time (2-4 years), while the status quo scenario (current management arrangements) could take 8-30 years depending on the acceptable level of risk adopted.

While the acceptable level of risk adopted by other tRFMO’s ranges from 5-20%, WCPFC requires the risk to be “very low” (i.e. 5-10%). FFA members will present a proposal to WCPFC13 in line with the 5% interim risk level for skipjack and albacore and 10% for yellowfin and bigeye currently considered. Scientific analysis presented at SC12 will also assist the Commission in developing harvest control rules and monitoring strategy evaluations for albacore and skipjack in 2016-2018, as per the 2016 Harvest Strategy Workplan, as well as performance indicators to evaluate harvest control rules and a monitoring strategy to assess performance against reference points.

The tropical tunas measure (CMM 2015-01) requires the Commission to formulate and adopt purse seine and longline yellowfin catch limits for CCMs at WCPFC13, in line with advice by SC12. Yellowfin tuna stocks status is relatively insensitive to purse seine set type (unassociated vs. FAD) and 2015 catches for both the purse seine and longline sectors are fairly stable.

Hence, FFA members indicated that yellowfin catch limits are not immediately necessary, but expressed concern about the increase in yellowfin catch by the Indonesian and Philippines’ handline fisheries. SC12 will recommend that WCPFC13 considers the need for continued improvement in data collection in these fisheries.

CMM 2015-01 includes a provision that CCMs who have achieved a verifiable reduction in bigeye catches by their purse seine fleet to 55% of 2010-2012 levels are able to claim an exemption from the 2017 high seas FAD closure. SPC data analysis indicates that several fleets, including the EU have achieved catch reductions in 2015 greater than the required 55% reduction.

However, some CCMs expressed concern that CMM 2015-01 does not stipulate the period of time over which the reduction has to have been achieved, nor how long it needs to be sustained for. PNA members indicated that they are considering alternative FAD management measures (i.e. FAD charging, FAD tracking) to reduce bigeye catches in their waters.

On ecosystem and by-catch mitigation issues, SC12 noted the limitations in evaluating compliance and the effectiveness of CMM 2010-07 for sharks, given difficulties evaluating the 5% fin to carcass ratio requirement. It also considered applying a definition of longline fisheries “targeting” sharks as problematic, given fisheries need not be targeting sharks to have a significant impact on vulnerable shark stocks. SC12 will recommend that WCPFC13 considers adopting guidelines for the safe release of Manta and Mobula rays caught incidentally in WCPFC fisheries.

if this isn't enough, download the Summary Report of the meeting.