Charleston Deiye, CEO of the Nauru Fisheries and Marine Resources Authority introduced the draft measure, pointing out to the assembled national delegations that this was a very simple proposal with two main objectives: improved conservation of bigeye tuna, and better control of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.
He drew the attention of the commission to the latest WCPFC Science Committee report which had suggested that spatial closures extending to longline fisheries as well as purse-seine fisheries would produce positive effects on the biomass of bigeye tuna, provided that this effort was not transferred elsewhere.
Mr Deiye pointed out that many longline vessels operating in the high seas pockets are obviously not abiding by commission rules, and could be considered "IUU". He said “the control of fishing on the high seas is the core business of the commission, but if the members of the Commission do not grant it the capacity to curb or even warn adjacent coastal States about high seas violations, the Commission cannot perform its main function. Unless the Commission is allowed greater control of fishing on the high seas, the only effective way of limiting the impact of distant water longliners on the bigeye stock is to prevent their activities in these areas entirely”.
He asked the Commission to consider either approving a stand-alone conservation and management measure (CMM) to enact this prohibition, or to incorporate a high seas pockets longline ban into the comprehensive new CMM on tropical tunas that was under discussion.
Unfortunately by the end of the week, the Commission membership had agreed to neither. And far from implementing a restriction on distant-water longliners to match the restriction on purse-seiners that has been in place for the last three years, the Commission had actually opened up the far western high seas pocket to a number of purse-seiners. In terms of removing excess fishing mortality on bigeye tuna, this was a step backwards rather than a move forwards.
“It is like 2007 all over again”, said Mr Deiye. In 2007 the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) came to the Commission meeting in Guam asking distant water fishing nations to agree on measures to halt overfishing of bigeye tuna. However, the Commission members failed to agree to any measures, and it was left to the PNA to take unilateral action in their own waters – a 3 month FAD closure, a prohibition on fishing in high seas pockets, 100% observer coverage and full tuna catch retention. The PNA island states were aided by the fact that their combined waters cover most of the range of the western Pacific purse-seine fishery. Consequently, at the 2008 meeting, the Commission was presented with a “fait accompli”, and it was but a small further step to agree to similar measures extending over the whole commission area, given that the PNA measures already covered most of the purse-seine fishery.
Longlining may be more difficult to control. As Mr Deiye explained, “longliners are smaller than purse-seiners, their catch is more valuable, and there are a lot of vessels operating entirely on the high seas without needing to access national waters. The purse-seiners need to access our waters to make a living, but the longliners can afford to sit outside our borders and cream off the bigeye and yellowfin tuna that we are conserving by restricting the purse-seine fisheries within our EEZs.”
The Parties to the Nauru Agreement can take some action to manage longliners – indeed the PNA Longline Vessel Days Scheme, which caps longline effort in PNA waters, is planned to come into effect on January 1st 2013. Unfortunately, without the Commission taking compatible action on the high seas, the PNA longline measures are unlikely to be as effective as the EEZ-dependent purse-seine measures were in 2008.
“We hope the Commission membership gets the message before the next meeting in December” said Mr Deiye. “I don’t see why coastal state waters should continue to bear most of the conservation burden for western Pacific tuna fisheries.”
Is he aware that the longline catch of bigeye appears to have reduced over the last three years? "Yes", said Mr Deiye, "but it is interesting that the amount of time spent fishing by longliners has actually increased, according to electronic vessel monitoring systems. A lot of these boats fish exclusively on the high seas, and very few of them have observers aboard. How accurate is their catch reporting I wonder? How much of this fish gets recorded? And how much of it is taken away by fish carriers after high seas transhipments which have not been authorised by the Commission?"