During a meeting earlier this month, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) disregarded appeals from the EU and Japan, as well as from Commission scientists, calling for a substantial and immediate reduction in catch rates of bigeye and yellowfin tuna in response to diminished stocks. An earlier meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) resulted in only cosmetic cuts to Atlantic bluefin quotas, calling into question the ability of the global system of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) to prevent overfishing.
With tuna in sharp decline throughout many of the world’s oceans, fisheries commissions are holding meetings to address the problem and discuss solutions. However, these meetings aren’t amounting to as much change as environmental groups would like to see.
Last month, ICCAT met in Paris to discuss declines in Mediterranean stocks of Atlantic bluefin tuna, only to enact superficial quota cuts.
A freshly-caught bigeye tuna. Photo by Mongabay.com
“Greed and mismanagement have taken priority over sustainability and common sense,” WWF Mediterranean fisheries head Sergi Tudela told Reuters, “This measly quota reduction is insufficient to ensure the recovery of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean.”
The Atlantic bluefin can grow to be the size of a horse and can fetch upwards of $100,000 at Japanese auctions. Current estimates indicate that Mediterranean stocks have fallen 80% since 1970, however because of under-reporting and illegal fishing many believe that the actual percentage is even higher.
Still, the Atlantic bluefin is lucky compared with its Pacific counterpart, whose numbers have plummeted more than 90%. Longline fishermen in the north-central Pacific say that they can fish for years without ever seeing a bluefin. Pacific fisheries now target bigeye and yellowfin tuna, which are considerably more numerous than the bluefin, but whose numbers have dropped off considerably since the 70s. However, a meeting held earlier this month by WCPFC resulted in rejection of a motion to lower quotas in the region.
Japan and the EU, with backing from the US and other fishing nations, urged the need to freeze the fishing capacity of purse-seine super fleets and put a halt to harvest of the most endangered stock. And the WCPFC’s own Scientific Committee called for an immediate bigeye catch reduction of 29%. However, these recommendations were ultimately rejected by the Commission.
“Once again we see the WCPFC failing to hear their own scientific advice and condemning the region’s most stressed tuna stocks to another year of overfishing,” said Peter Trott, Fisheries Program Manager with WWF-Australia. “I have never seen such strong support from the big fishing nations on the need to reduce pressure on big eye and other stressed stocks but this was still not enough to make any real progress on halting the decline of these species.”
Yet there were a few silver linings to come out of the meeting. The WCPFC is, for the first time, opening itself up to independent review. It will also be implementing a new conservation measure for the Pacific bluefin tuna, as well as a new shark research plan which would increase monitoring and reporting of shark catches.
“This level of agreement on shark catch has been one of only a few progressive steps taken at this year’s meeting and we hope it will help better inform, and stop the decline of key shark species within the region,” said Mr Trott.