January 06, 2006

By Jessica Chapman
The Kaselehlie Press

The second regular session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission concluded Friday December 16 in Palikir. Nearly 300 participants from more than two dozen countries and territories spent the week negotiating a framework for the commission and establishing measures related to the management and conservation of tuna on the high seas. Notable progress included three resolutions limiting the catch of yellowfin, bigeye, North Pacific albacore and South Pacific albacore within the area under the jurisdiction of the commission. The measures call for retrieval of these species to not exceed 2004 levels.

Other topics discussed by the commission included bycatch of non-target species, boarding and inspection procedure, vessel observer coverage, and monitoring, compliance and surveillance procedure. Commission consensus on yellowfin and bigeye posed a particular challenge said Andrew Wright, executive director of the commission Secretariat based in Pohnpei.

The two species have come under scrutiny in recent years due to concern about their diminishing populations as a result of overfishing. The environmental organization Greenpeace reports catch of skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye and albacore tuna has more than tripled in the past 30 years.

What complicates the issue, Wright explained, is tension between the aspirations of small island developing states to develop fisheries and the hesitance of distant water fishing nations, who dominate Pacific waters, to pursue expansion of fishing effort.

"In the end, it was to some extent a compromise," Wright said. "Probably from a scientist's perspective, not the ideal outcome because there are concerns about the capacity of bigeye and yellowfin to be able to support 2004 levels of harvest, but at least it's a start." Distant water fishing nations harvest the majority of the catch from western and central Pacific waters. Among them are Japan, China, Korea, the United States and the European Union.

The FSM may have to negotiate the delicate balance between a desire to pursue vibrant fisheries but also to remain mindful of the need to conserve one of the country's most valuable resources: tuna. In an opening speech to the commission, FSM President Joseph Urusemal urged participants to be mindful of the effects of their decisions on small island developing states such as the FSM. Aside from its abundant marine resources, the country "does not have the benefit of other economic resources to assist development," he commented. President Urusemal also asked participants to consider the struggle of regional fishermen.

"It is the fishermen who are suffering," he said. "Fish prices have remained about the same level but fuel prices have continued to rise."

Bernard Thoulag, executive director of the country's National Ocean Resource Management Authority (NORMA) nd head of the FSM delegation to the commission acknowledged the twin interests of economic development and conservation efforts. "The stocks are very important to us in terms of our development, so we want to make sure that measures are taken to ensure their long term sustainability," he said.

One of the commission's two subsidiary bodies, the Technical and Compliance Committee, met the week prior to the commission meeting, from December 5-9. The Technical and Compliance Committee establishes rules and regulations for operating on the high seas.

The other subsidiary is the Scientific Committee, responsible for the collection and assessment of data pertinent to the commission as well as diagnosis of the data. The commission, commonly referred to as the "Tuna Commission," functions under the Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, which was adopted in 2000. The commission held its first annual meeting in 2004 in Pohnpei. Its jurisdiction includes major portions of the Western and Central Pacific outside the exclusive economic zones of member countries. Currently, 24 countries have ratified or acceded to the convention. Meetings were held on the College of Micronesia campus in Palikir.