Tri Marine Executives Attend Tuna Commission Meeting

PAPEETE, TAHITI, FRENCH POLYNESIA, 9 DECEMBER 2009

Tri Marine senior executives Joe Hamby and Phil Roberts attended the 6th meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission held at Papeete, Tahiti December 7-11, 2009.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) was established by the Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPF Convention) which entered into force on 19 June 2004. The Convention was concluded after six years of negotiation which commenced in 1994.

The 25 member countries, 7 participating territories, 5 cooperating non-member countries and a number of observer NGO’s meeting annually to discuss and agree on manage measures and related matters regarding the migratory fish stocks of the Western and Central Pacific. Tuna, of course, is the species of most commercial interest.

As last year’s meeting of the WCPFC in Busan, Korea yielded a significant 3 year management measure, this year’s meeting was expected to focus on related issues, like fishing capacity and IUU fishing.

In fact, the meeting in Papeete did spend a considerable amount of time discussing IUU fishing. The WCPFC maintains a register of fishing vessels authorized to fish by WCPFC members and a ‘blacklist’ of fishing vessels which are illegal, unreported and unregulated (known as the IUU list). Every year, WCPFC members can nominate fishing vessels found illegally fishing to the WCPFC ‘blacklist’ and this year members initially nominated 10 vessels, six from China 2 from Chinese Taipei and 2 from Indonesia.

Marshall Islands nominated a Chinese Taipei fishing vessel which had fled their waters in a dramatic chase which caused damage to the patrol boat. Chinese Taipei was also concerned that this vessel had been untraceable since the chase and assisted Marshall Islands by providing the name of the captain and other information to try and help detection. The fishing vessel is still at large and all WCPFC members agreed to put it on the blacklist.

New Zealand nominated six Chinese and 1 Chinese Taipei fishing vessels for the IUU list but withdrew the nomination after China and Chinese Taipei provided documentation they had taken significant steps to ensure fishing vessels were on the WCPFC record of authorized vessels and both countries agreed it would support a proposed amendment to the WCPFC rules to ensure flag states (countries where fishing vessels were registered) take responsibility for making sure their fishing vessels are on the WCPFC Record before they commence fishing beyond its Exclusive Economic Zone. This amendment was adopted by the Commission.

Dr. John Hampton, Manager of the Oceanic Fisheries Programme (OFP) under the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) presented an evaluation of Commission Management Measure CMM-2008-01 (the one adopted last year in Busan) in order to see if the measures are capable of achieving the stated objectives of the CMM. He pointed out that the evaluation does not necessarily predict what will happen, but what the CMM could allow, and how that relates to the CMM objectives.

View Dr. Hampton's presentation.

In summary, whilst the skipjack stock is considered to be in good health, yellowfin is being heavily fished in the western part of the Convention Area, and most worryingly, the bigeye stock is being overfished. Total biomass of both yellowfin and bigeye has declined dramatically over the past fifty years.

One should note that the main objective of CMM-2008-1 was to reduce the current overfishing of bigeye. According to Dr. Hampton, this is not going to be achieved. In the discussion following the report, several member countries expressed surprise that the measure was being characterized as not being capable of meeting its objectives. This lead to an accusation by one of the members against another member that the increase in bigeye mortality was due to the growth of the purse seiner fleet operating under that member’s flag.

Listen to that country’s rebuttal to this accusation.
Listen to the accuser’s subsequent apology.

The debate between those two fishing nations reminded everyone that management of the fishery will require management and control of the fishing capacity. Capacity limits are a must. The question is when will the Commission get serious about controlling fishing capacity? In discussing capacity limits, it is necessary to note the Pacific island States, in particular the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), have a strong desire to manage the tuna stocks in their EEZ’s themselves and not leave this responsibility to the Commission. The PNA countries see the management of the tuna stocks as their sovereign right. They aspire to increase their participation in the tuna fishery by sponsoring onshore investment in tuna processing plants and the acquisition of new and second hand tuna purse seiners. The investment in onshore processing plants is being stimulated by the promise of fishing licenses for the investors. To the extent that those fishing licenses may be used to facilitate the entry into the fishery of newly built fishing boats, this policy is expansionary and is contributing to over capacity.

Unless there is a cap on the number of fishing vessels that are allowed to operate in the Western and Central Pacific, the growth in fishing capacity and the pressure on the tuna resource will continue to grow. It is time for both the PNA and the Commission to get serious about limiting fishing capacity.

Background on Tri Marine

Tri Marine is a tuna supply company with focus on supply of tuna and tuna products to the leading brands of tuna. It has offices in 14 countries and processing activities in plants located strategically around the world. Its tuna purse seiners operate in the Western Pacific and the Eastern Tropical Pacific. Tri Marine was formed in Singapore in 1972. Since then the company has grown to be one of the largest tuna supply companies in the world. Tri Marine is privately owned.