United States seeks increase in its tuna catch limit

by Bernadette Carreon | 11 December 2018 | News

Bigeye tuna - copyright NOAA

Honolulu, Hawaii- The United States is seeking a higher catch limit for bigeye tuna by its Hawaii-based longline fishing fleet at the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) taking place in Honolulu this week.

The move comes as Pacific Island nations through their two main inter-governmental fishing agencies have made it clear they are not willing to increase the total bigeye catch in Pacific waters.

In its proposal to the 27-member rule-setting body, the United States highlights the significant levels of monitoring and control it maintains in the fishery, outperforming other members of the Commission.

,Washington points out that while the large longline fleets maintained by Japan, Korea and Taiwan have failed to meet the Commission’s minimum requirement of placing independent fisheries observers on 5 per cent of their vessels the Hawaii-based US fleet has consistently outperformed minimum requirements.

Figures included in the proposal show the US fleet has achieved observer coverage of about 20 per cent in its deep-set fishery and 100% in its shallow-set fishery.

With ‘essentially no at-sea trans-shipments’ taking place in the fishery the US argues it has been contributing highly certain catch data and other fisheries information, and making an important contribution.

The US proposes that as an incentive for Commission members to provide better quality catch data would be to increase catch limits by 1 per cent on 2018 levels for every 1 per cent of observer coverage achieved over the 5 per cent minimum. They also propose that catch limits should be increased by 10 per cent on 2018 levels for every member that achieves 100 per cent trans-shipment free fishing.

The US proposal admits that under current conditions the its fleets would be the only ones eligible to receive an increase in their catch limits.

It comes as the Science Committee of the WCPFC confirms advice that bigeye tuna is not overfished or experiencing overfishing. 

However, Pacific nations do not want to see an increase in the catch of bigeye.

The CEO of the 8-nation Parties to the Nauru Agreement group Ludwig Kumoru said although the US fishing industry is laudable for its efforts to put in measures to improve monitoring and control of their fishing vessels, the number of observers should not “directly relate to how much fish should I take from the ocean.”

 He said that the amount of observer coverage or number of observers one places on the vessels does not relate to the amount of fish one catches.

“Therefore good reporting should not be used as a condition to increase catch. We should instead concentrate on bringing in conservation measures that actually support sustainable fishing,” he said.

Although he doesn’t agree with the proposal, Kumoru said it will be up to the Commission members to decide on the matter.

“I think we should concentrate on bringing in conservation measures that actually support sustainable fishing.” Kumoru said.

The director General of the 17-nation Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen said that although the science says that bigeye tuna looks to be in healthier state than previously thought, they have advised the Commission to maintain current fishing limits and take a precautionary approach.

Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen stressed that the FFA wants to see a strong tropical tuna measure from this week’s Commission meeting which include a healthy bigeye tuna population.

 “I mentioned earlier priorities of FFA members going into this meeting and that is to maintain the strength of the tropical tuna measure and not to weaken the existing provisions,” Dr. Roosen said.

She also commended United States continued cooperation with the Commission’s rules.

“So we are confident that we will reach a successful resolution of the ongoing issue with the US,” she said.

The environmental groups PEW and WWF see the US proposal as an “interesting idea” especially in the context of it being an incentive to fishing nations to improve monitoring control and observer coverage, but believe the Commission should still prioritise the population of the bigeye.

“ We are fully in support of improving observers coverage, we also think that trans-shipment should be banned unless best practices are in place to ensure its verifiable and legal. And we see this incentive system as an interesting idea.  However, the Commission needs to be careful that the overall catch of big-eye does not increase past the scientific advice,” said Dave Gershman, Pew Charitable Trust Global Tuna Conservation Officer.

“If you increase the catch of big-eye through one proposal, you need to kind of reign it in in a different way. If they can structure it in a way where it doesn’t lead to an increase in big-eye catch then that would be the way to go.”

Bubba Cook, WWF Western Central Pacific Tuna Programme Manager said: “The US proposal sends a strong statement that if we have greater observer coverage and we’re able to get better refined data on these stocks, we may actually be able to catch more than what we’re catching right now.”

WCPFC chairperson Rhea Moss-Christian said that the US approach is a “relatively new one,” and she cannot determine yet how the Commission members will respond to the proposal.