January 10, 2011

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

Ko Olina, Hawaii-Representatives of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) say that they "made headway" in their week long 7th Regular Session that concluded in Ko Olina, Hawaii on Friday December 15. Just the same, over 400 delegates and observers from Pacific nations and territories as well as the European Commission were unable to reach a consensus on the key issues related to over fishing of Pacific big eye or to capping purse-seine fishing capacity in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

Under the category of "headway" the Commission did adopt conservation measures for Striped Marlin which requires members and cooperating non-members with vessels fishing in the Convention area north of the equator to reduce their harvests of North Pacific striped marlin by 10 percent below the highest catch they made between 2000 and 2003. The measure is subject to amendment after the completion of a new North Pacific stock assessment that will take place this year.

It also approved a new shark assessment and research program to determine the stock status of key commission-managed shark species in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. The research and assessment will be led by renowned shark researcher, Dr. Shelley Clark and will focus on blue, mako, silky, oceanic white tip and thresher sharks and can be extended to include other shark species such as porbeagle and hammerheads.

The Commission also agreed to a Cook Islands proposal for a Special Management Area in the Eastern High Seas Pocket. That Conservation Management Measure (CMM) requires vessels of Commission members and cooperating non-members (the only ones legally allowed to fish in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean) to provide entry/exit/catch reports to the Commission when operating in the Eastern high seas pocket bounded by the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of the Cook Islands to the west, French Polynesia to the East and Kiribati to the north.

The Commission did agree to a strategy to govern the development in 2011 of a new CMM for big eye tuna. Their press release says that the new CMM may also include measures for yellow fin and skipjack tuna. The CMM that is currently in place has not met the targeted 30% reduction in big eye fishing mortality. The Commission says that while big eye tuna stock is not over fished its spawning "biomass" (the numbers of fish that are able to actively reproduce in the Pacific) has been reduced by 75 percent since the 1950's.

The current CMM did result in a 20 percent reduction in the harvest of adult big eye tuna by the long line fishing method, but it has not cubed the by catch of juvenile big eye by the purse-seine fleets that utilize fish aggregation devices.

Saying that the issue is complex, the WCPFC was not able to reach agreement on a proposal tabled by Japan to cap the number of purse seine vessels fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. Some member countries have boats on the assembly line or in the planning stages, and the small island developing states have a desire to develop their own purse seine fisheries.

Dr. Charles Karnella of the United States was selected as the Commission's chairman for 2011 and 2012. Matthew Hooper of New Zealand was selected as the vice chairman.

Pohnpei will play host to two major meetings of the Commission in 2011. The Scientific Committee will meet in August. The Technical and Compliance Committee will meet in October.

Palau will be the host for the 8th Regular Session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in December.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission was established by the Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean which entered into force on June 19, 2004. The Convention was concluded after six years of negotiation which commenced in 1994.

The headquarters for the WCPFC is located in Pohnpei, FSM. While the Commission is popularly known as the Tuna Commission its role is the conservation of all species of highly migratory fish stocks including those for which the commercial market is smaller than that of tuna.

A large map on the wall of the Commission's Executive Director Glenn Hurry shows the boundaries of Commission monitored waters. The Eastern boundary is a gerrymandered line west of Hawaii that veers sharply east below those waters before turning back south cutting through French Polynesia. Hurry says that the western boundary is somewhat more nebulously defined and has been the subject of some debate. The line drawn on his map bisects the globe in waters west of Indonesia.

Hurry says that the Commission works closely in a mutually beneficial relationship with several other entities in the Pacific including the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the Pacific Islands Forum, and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement.

Member countries include Australia, China, Canada, Cook Islands, European Union, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Japan, Kiribati, Korea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Chinese Taipei, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States of America, and Vanuatu.

Participating territories include American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, French Polynesia, Guam, New Caledonia, Tokelau, and Wallis and Futuna.

Cooperating Non-members include Belize, Indonesia, Senegal, Mexico, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Vietnam.