Climate change tops list of Pacific priorities at halfway stage of WCPFC16

by Fatu Tauafiafi | 9 December 2019 | News

Inside the 16th Tuna Commission meeting in Port Moresby. Photo: F. Tauafialfi.


  • Midway state of play on eight Pacific priorities as provided by the FFA Secretariat
  • Climate change resolution: Niue and Tuvalu minister’ say
  • High-seas allocation a priority, and links to the tropical tuna measure

A strong stance on action on climate change remains at the top of FFA’s agenda half way through the 16th Tuna Commission meeting. The other top priority is on allocations of access to high-seas tuna.

At the midway point of the meeting in Papua New Guinea, Pacific members are generally pleased with progress made on their priority issues. But there is still a long way to go when the Commission negotiations reconvene tomorrow.

The reality is that the WCPFC is always a complex negotiation with several different proposals being negotiated at the same time according to FFA Deputy Director-General Mr Matthew Hooper. 

“Often there are trade-offs to be made, with countries willing to compromise on certain things if they get what they want in other parts of the negotiation. For this reason, it can be hard to predict how things are going to end up at the end of the meeting,” Mr Hooper said.

FFA Deputy Director-General Mr Matthew Hooper, left, and FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, at WCPFC16
FFA Deputy Director-General Mr Matthew Hooper, left, and FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, at WCPFC16

Climate-change resolution

FFA members are pushing hard for agreement on the Resolution on Climate Change they put forward at the start of the meeting. While some of the elements of the proposed resolution will likely change, FFA is hopeful that a resolution will be passed that will start the Tuna Commission off on making concrete efforts to respond to the impacts of climate change. (See below for more detail.)

High-seas limits and allocation

There is general agreement to the proposal from FFA members for the WCPFC to hold a two-day workshop to discuss high-seas limits and a framework for allocating those limits. The terms of reference for this workshop still have to be discussed, but FFA is hopeful that agreement will be reached so that the Tuna Commission can tackle this difficult issue in 2020. (See below for more detail.)

Revision of skipjack target reference point still to be agreed

Discussions on the target reference point (TRP) for skipjack tuna are proving difficult. While most WCPFC members support FFA members’ call for the TRP to be adjusted to reflect the new scientific model that was used for the latest stock assessment, not all members are ready to agree to this yet. This is another issue that is not likely to be resolved till later in the meeting.


The Transhipment Intersessional Working Group, co-chaired by RMI and USA, has made some good progress. A study that will get under way early next year will identify weaknesses in the existing measure. 

Mobulid rays CMM

FFA members proposed draft conservation and management measure (CMM) for mobulid rays (such as manta rays) has been well received and Palau is coordinating comments from other members. A revised version of the measure will likely be posted on Monday morning for a further round of comments from other members.

Compliance Monitoring Scheme 

FFA members’ proposal to reform the WCPFC Compliance Monitoring Scheme is being discussed in a small working group. Even more intensive discussions are progressing in the margins of that meeting. 

This will be one of the hardest issues to reach agreement on, given the different approaches taken by some WCPFC members. However, FFA is encouraged by the delegates’ willingness to work together to try and achieve a compromise that focuses compliance monitoring on the implementation of measures by members, rather than delving into the detail of individual cases involving fishing vessels that are the better dealt with through other mechanisms.

South Pacific albacore

FFA members have taken the lead in reinvigorating discussions on the South Pacific Albacore Roadmap, with a focus on moving the stock towards the TRP agreed in Honolulu last December. And putting in place a new measure that recognizes the EEZ limits of FFA members, and also puts limits on fishing in the high seas. 

A small working group, led by Fiji, will meet on Monday morning to start informal discussions.

Harvest strategy

Discussions on the harvest-strategy approach to fisheries management have been a big feature of WCPFC16. The approach is complex and very science-focused. 

While FFA members support the approach, the organisation has identified a clear need for further capacity building of members so that everyone understands the implications of the decisions that are required to move this work forward. It has been clear that many other WCPFC members are also struggling to understand the complexities of the harvest strategy, and so this work will continue but at a slower and more deliberate pace.

Climate change resolution: Niue and Tuvalu ministers’ say

Top of the list is the Pacific call to adopt the Climate Change resolution. Pacific countries and delegations with ministerial representations have been active in garnering support for the proposal. 

The chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee, Mr Eugene Pangelinan, said, “FFA members call on the WCPFC, as a collective body made up of all its member countries, to take stronger action on climate change and we look forward to discussing our proposals further with members at this meeting.”

It is a conversation that is relevant for all members, he added, “This is not just a Pacific issue necessarily: it is a fishing issue that we are all a part of and we have to do our parts together.” 

Niue’s Associate Minister for Natural Resources, Hon. Esa Sharon-Mona Ainuu, called on the Commission to adopt the FFA resolution during her formal address at the first session of the meeting. 

Niue's Associate Minister for Natural Resources, Hon. Esa Sharon-Mona Ainuu, left, at WCPFC16, sitting at a table in a meeting room, next to an unnamed man. Country label Niue in front of them, and they have laptop computers open in front of them, and a microphone.
Niue’s Associate Minister for Natural Resources, Hon. Esa Sharon-Mona Ainuu, left, with another delegate to WCPFC16

“Climate change is an existential threat to our region, and directly threatens our livelihoods, security and wellbeing,” she said.

Tuvalu’s minister for Fisheries and Trade, Hon. Minute Taupo, emphasised at a press conference, “Climate change is not a problem that Tuvalu has caused – but we are going to suffer its effects. We suggest that the current global arrangements are changed to prevent this injustice.”

The climate-change resolution is not binding. Its main purpose is to provide an entry point into the Commission space to allow formal discussions to take place, as FFA Director-General Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen explained.

“It will serve to focus attention on this important area whilst we refine the specific actions that can be taken by this Commission – then we can collectively begin work on binding measures,” she said.

High-seas allocation a priority and links to tropical tuna measure

According to FFC Chair Mr Eugene Pangelinan, Pacific leaders have pronounced zone-based management as their mainstream fisheries-management program to rights within Pacific waters.

“Therefore, we already have well established zone-based limits within the EEZs that have been recognised by the Commission,” Mr Pangelinan said. 

The conversation FFA members are looking to have on “allocation” is in relation to the high seas: about the current effort on the high seas and how the members, as small island developing states (SIDS), will have a fair share. 

Mr Pangelinan reiterated that the issue for discussion is purely about “high seas allocation”, a conversation that was bedded down at WCPFC14 in Manila in 2017. At WCPFC16, he said, it is time to discuss what is the best way to approach the issue and make sure there is a fair and equitable distribution of those allocation rights to the high seas. 

The high seas are in the SIDS’ back yards, and they want access to develop this area just as the distant water fishing nations (DWFN) have for many years.

Pacific members would like to see an agreed approach and process come out of the WCPFC16 conversation, Mr Pangelinan said.

“2020 will be an important year for us. That’s when the tropical tuna measure (TTM) will expire, and we will need to make sure that in 2020 we have that process well set. We are advocating a two-day workshop to tackle high seas allocations because its fundamental to agreeing to a future TTM,” he said.

The 16th annual meeting of WCPFC reconvened at 9 am today, and is expected to close its proceedings on Wednesday, 11 December.

The Tuvalu Minister for Fisheries and Trade, Hon. Minute Taupo, with the FFA Director-General, Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, at WCPFC16

Article by Lealaiauloto Aigaletaule’ale’a F. Tauafiafi’s. His participation and coverage at the WCPFC16 was made possible by the Forum Fisheries Agency, Pew Charitable Trusts, and GEF OFMP2 project.