Calls for ban on rampant tuna transshipment in the high seas

by Pita Ligaiula | 3 December 2017 | News

Republished from WWF-Pacific, 3 December 2017

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) attending the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) have called for the ban of transshipment of tuna on the high seas.

This practice, which occurs out-of-sight of land in areas of ocean beyond the control Pacific governments are able to assert in their 200-mile exclusive economic zones, allows vessels fishing illegally to evade monitoring and enforcement measures, offload their cargo, and resume fishing without returning to port.

Global Tuna Conservation Director for PEW Charitable Trusts Amanda Nickson believes transshipment should be banned until there are sufficient controls in place to ensure that it does not operate as a loophole for Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) activities.

“We always hope that the Commission meetings will take up the issue of transshipment and continue to discuss and improve the situation,” Nickson said.

“Our position remains very clearly that transshipment at sea should be banned until there are sufficient controls in place to ensure that we don’t have it operating as a loophole for IUU activities.

“At this point I don’t see that we’re seeing a great deal of political will to address the issue as we would like but we certainly hope to see improved discussion,” Nickson told regional media in Manila.

Transhipment boats in Phonpei lagoon

Transhipments in Phonpei lagoon. Photo: Francisco Blaha

Jamie Gibbon, Officer for Global Tuna Conservation (GTC) at PEW said 52 percent of longliners operating in the WCPFC have authorisation to transship, without any clear guidelines.

“One of the biggest issues in the region is that WCPFC initially envisioned transshipment as a rare occasion; that basically it will only occur at sea if that was the only way that a fishing industry could operate.

“Unfortunately, because WCPFC has not formalised the guidelines like they were supposed to, they basically rubber stamp any request for longliners to transship.

“So at this point, 52% of longliners operating in the WCPFC have the authorisation to transship. And that is not what the WCPFC envisioned when they put these regulations in place.

“One of the other issues is independent Observer reports are often not submitted to the Secretariat. Last year (2016) there were approximately 900 at sea transshipments, only one observer report made it to the Secretariat,” said Gibbon.

“I think it’s important that the Commission looks at the whole process. Who is transshipping, what are they transshipping, what’s getting reported? Is that report audited? Is there enough information out there? Right now we feel like transshipment is a black hole of information.

“There is no central repository for all that information it’s almost impossible for authorities to cross check information. So we really can’t tell you exactly what’s going on and that’s the biggest issue,” he said.

Gibbon said the issue requires regional cooperation from all relevant authorities; the observer programmes making sure that their observer reports are submitted both to the national, sub-regional and the WCPFC secretariat.

“Its going to take those authorities working together to cross check between the catch reports of the fishing vessels, the transshipment reports of what actually is transferred and then also the landing reports and making sure that all that information make sense,” explained Gibbon.

Speaking at the WCPFC14 plenary in Manila, Fiji’s Fisheries Minister Semi Koroilavesau said the need to “control efforts in the high seas” has not been successfully addressed.

“Such inaction of the commission is negatively contributing to over- capacity in the high seas resulting in low catches in zone. We do not want to see this to continue as our fishery may all collapse under the pressure that is being forcefully exerted upon us by Distant Water Fishing Nations (DWFNs),” said Koroilavesau in Fiji’s opening country statement.