May 27, 2009

Pacific Islands Foreign Fisheries Agency
The Kaselehlie Press

(Alofi, Niue, 14 May 2009) - The Secretariat of the Pacific Community's Oceanic Fisheries Programme (SPC-OFP) provided its annual report on the status of tuna and swordfish stocks in the Western and Central Pacific region to the 70th meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Committee Officials Meeting held in Alofi, Niue. This meeting of officials will draft recommendations to go to Ministers for high level decision making next week.

SPC-OFP is the region's mandated centre for tuna fisheries data, stock assessment and related research. This science informs the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Committee's decisions on fisheries management and the work of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency in providing expertise and support to its 17 members on fisheries management issues.

Despite the continued increase in the catch of skipjack tuna, this highly productive resource is considered by the scientists to be in a healthy state. However, there are significant concerns over the status of bigeye tuna and yellowfin tuna and mounting evidence of overfishing. Overfishing of these species is a serious concern for the Pacific, as they are important for locally-based fisheries and yellowfin in particular is an important food resource for many coastal communities.

Albacore tuna, which is the basis of Pacific Island longline fisheries, appears to be in healthy condition, although the numbers of larger albacore targeted by longliners have declined in recent years.

SPC-OFP reported that the regional tuna catch reached 2.4 million tonnes in 2007, worth approximately USD3.9 billion. This record catch was dominated by skipjack tuna (1.7 million tonnes) caught by purse seine fishing vessels.

SPC-OFP will be updating its assessments of bigeye, yellowfin and albacore for the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Scientific Committee meeting in August this year. They will also be evaluating the management measures supported by the Pacific Islands and agreed by Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission last December to see if they will eliminate the over- fishing currently occurring on bigeye and yellowfin.