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Can WCPFC stop bigeye overfishing?

An OPRT seminar under the theme “Will overfishing of bigeye tuna in the Western and Central Pacific stop?–expectation toward the five-year program for recovery of bigeye tuna stock” was held in Tokyo on Jan. 31, 2013. OPRT Newsletter International No. 42 reported the situation in which a grave concern has emerged over the sustainability of the bigeye tuna stock in the western and central Pacific–the main producing ground of bigeye tuna in the world (See Note)–due to decline of the stock. This seminar was held with the explicit aim to deepen our understanding of the situation. A large number of people, including those related to tuna fisheries, mass media and ordinary public, attended the seminar, indicating high level of interest in the issue.
 (Note: According to the statistics of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2010, the bigeye tuna production in the world totaled 359,000 tons, of which 109,000 tons were produced in the western Pacific.)
 Lecturers at the seminar were Dr. Ziro Suzuki (who has attended tuna-related Scientific Committee meetings as a tuna biologist) and Mr. Akihiko Yatsuzuka, Director, National Tuna Fisher y Association (who attended meetings of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and has a comprehensive knowledge of the discussion in the Commission).
 Dr. Suzuki made his presentation as follows.
  Overfishing of bigeye tuna is now taking place in the western and central Pacific. The WCPFC decided on measures to reduce the fishing mortality of bigeye to the 2001-2004 level. While efforts to reduce the mortality have been observed in longline fishing, the effort by purse-seine fishery has not been curtailed, but rather exceeded the target reduction level by as large as 46%. As a result, the bigeye catch by purse-seine fishing vessels reached an alltime high level of 77,095 tons in 2011.
The WCPFC also set a three-month period banning the use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs)–devices that catch small-size bigeye and yellowfin tunas incidentally. But the number of sets of FADs outside the banned period increased in 2011, also registering the record number of sets in 2011.
Thus, Dr. Suzuki made his comments based on the data made available at related meetings, and pointed out the fact that management measures are not working for purseseine and FADs.
Further, he reported that the Scientific Committee recommended to the WCPFC to curtail excessive fishing capacity, including tightening of regulations on FADs operation.

Mr. Yatsuzuka pointed out that purse-seine bigeye catch exceeded the longline catch of 67,599 tons in 2011 for the first time in the past decade. When comparing by converting the catch volume into the number of fish, it follows that 96% of overall number of bigeye catch is taken by purse-seine fishing vessels, making it certain that their impact on the stock is enormous. On top of that, the number of purse-seine fishing vessels continued to increase to 283 as of 2011, and their excessive fishing capacity is posing a further serious threat.

By saying this, Yatsuzuka explained in detail the background in which the management measures to stop overfishing of bigeye tuna adopted by the WCPFC have been rendered virtually ineffective.
Further, he pointed out that cooperation by all the countries concerned with no exception is essential for the effective conservation and management of tuna resources, because of the highly migratory nature of tuna species. But the introduction of conservation and management measures with no exception at the WCPFC is difficult because there are many developing island countries in the region, to whom the WCPFC endorses special consideration for their requirements to develop their tuna fisheries. Although Yatsuzuka respects such endorsement for the developing countries, the outlook for the recovery of bigeye stock is quite bleak, he added.
A seminar participant commented that dialogue among countries concerned should be advanced more vigorously to find solution to the issue.
Yatsuzuka responded that the WCPFC should be the forum for such efforts. But as long as he has observed the commission by attending its meetings, it appears that constructive dialogue is fairly difficult at present.
The WCPFC is expected to develop before the end of this year the multi-year management program, which purports to eliminate overfishing of bigeye in five years from 2013. There is no path toward solution of the issue, other than hoping that effective program is developed and implemented.