WCPFC9 ended with stalemate –Let us flick the real switch of recovery of bigeye stock–

Flick the switch” has become a popular saying in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting. This is originally invented to urge VMS (Vessel Monitoring System used for locating the vessel position) switch on. What I lament is this magic saying does not work to end long lasting overfishing of bigeye stock in this region. Although the WCPFC9 held in Manila, the Philippines, adopted an interim measure for 2013 with a 5-year midterm recover y plan to be established next year for tropical tunas including bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack, no one would believe this measure is in line with what the Scientific Committee (SC) recommended. The SC recommended that it is necessar y to cut the current purse seine fishing mortality at least to the level of 2010 (30% less than the current level) with further reduction of longline fishing mortality of 10%. The new regulatory measures adopted for 2013 require 4 months FAD (Fish Aggregating Devices) closure (3 months currently) with a slight voluntary and compulsory reduction of longline catches depending on states. The current situation is awfully opposite to the goal aiming to end the over fishing of bigeye. In fact, only longline complied with the current measures of 30% reduction of the catch, while purse seine catch of bigeye exceeded that of longline for the second time and the total bigeye catch was the record highest. The number of FAD operations by purse seine fisheries once again increased to the highest level in history.

To gain the successful 5-year recovery plan for bigeye stock to be formulated before next year’s Commission Meeting, much more stringent measures should be imposed after 2013 and the member countries will be obliged to cope with this hard goal to clear. In considering the plan, I should point out one of the obvious loophole for the FAD closure measures. It is that the purse seiners have no limit for use the FAD outside of the FAD closure months. This makes the FAD regulatory measures useless and eventually lead to uncontrollable purse seine impact to bigeye stock. Since there appears to be no progress in researches for finding mitigation measures to reduce catching juvenile bigeye by the FAD operations, it would be more sensible to shift to the researches for measures that aim at increase of the success rate for capturing free swimming schools with virtually no bigeye.

The multi-year management program for 2014- 2017 is likely to contain some new ideas worth to proceed as an alternative measures intended to reduce the catch of juvenile tunas, such as a limit on FAD set numbers. This alternative measures originally conceived by Japan and through the discussion with FFA/PNA on this concept, the SIDS (Small Island Developing States) will be treated favorably and further dialogues will continue to reach a conclusion. I feel this concept has attractive practical elements both to the SIDS (for ensuring to secure stable and better incomes) and effective conservation of bigeye stock (by providing incentive to free school operations for purse seine boats). Anyway, next year will become the year of the watershed for bigeye conservation of the WCPFC in the point how it can effectively overcome the problem and I hope the firm multi-year plan may be agreed by the members. If it fails, I am afraid no one can avoid a painful sacrifice, regardless whether it is a developed or a developing country, in the near future.

Dr. Ziro SUZUKI is a leading tuna scientist who had worked for the National Research Institute of Far Sea Fisheries in Japan more than 30 years. He has particiapted in the scientific meetings of all tuna RFMOs. His critical eye to the issues of tuna resources management as a scientist is appreciated internationally as a vivid and constructive voice.