A Checklist for Fisheries Management in the Western and Central Pacific

Date: November 18, 2019

Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts

Managers must conserve tunas and sharks, reform transshipment, and end illegal fishing


The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) is responsible for the long-term conservation and management of highly migratory fish stocks, including tunas and sharks, in the western and central Pacific Ocean. The Pew Charitable Trusts calls on the Commission to fulfil this responsibility by taking the following actions at its 16th annual meeting from 5-11 December in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Advance the creation of harvest strategies to support sustainable fisheries

WCPFC has made considerable progress in developing harvest strategies for tunas in accordance with conservation and management measure (CMM) 2014-06 and its harvest strategy workplan.

At this meeting, the Commission should:

  • Adopt terms of reference for creating a Harvest Strategy Development Working Group to facilitate interaction between scientists, managers, and other parties.
  • Dedicate adequate funding to advance the management strategy evaluation (MSE) processes for skipjack, South Pacific albacore, yellowfin, and bigeye tunas.
  •  Provide feedback on the initial results of the skipjack MSE, including candidate harvest control rules. 
  • Adopt interim target reference points (TRPs) for bigeye and yellowfin tunas at their current levels of biomass until the necessary data and analyses are available to factor in socioeconomic objectives. Setting TRPs at current biomass levels would achieve the objectives of CMM 2018-01 to prevent biomass decline.
  • Require at least a 70 per cent chance of meeting these interim TRPs to ensure that the populations achieve them more often than not.
  • Adopt a CMM to reduce fishing mortality of South Pacific albacore to make progress towards achieving  the TRP.
  • Adopt the Northern Committee’s (NC15) recommendation to develop a harvest strategy for north Pacific swordfish but recommend using an MSE to assess the performance of potential harvest strategies.

Reject catch increases in Pacific bluefin tuna and support progress on a precautionary harvest strategy

Pacific bluefin tuna remains severely depleted, and urgent action is required to end overfishing and develop a precautionary, long-term harvest strategy that uses an MSE. At its 2019 meeting, NC15 took a step forward by recommending terms of reference for the MSE process and candidate harvest strategy elements for testing in the MSE. Unfortunately, NC15 also proposed additional exemptions to the current management measure that loosen restrictions on quota transfers and carryforwards, effectively increasing the catch allowed in 2020 and threatening to delay rebuilding of the stock.

This is too risky, because there is only a 3 per cent chance that the rebuilding plan will be successful if recruitment is assumed to stay low. Effective management is based on setting sustainable quotas that consider uncertainty surrounding current and future conditions. The Commission should:

  • Reject NC15’s recommendation to add exemptions to the management measure, which would increase catches of Pacific bluefin.
  • Recommend that NC15 include in the terms of reference a workplan to complete the MSE in 2024 and implement a precautionary harvest strategy in 2025. It should include testing the rebuilding strategy.
  • Recommend that NC15 amend the proposed harvest strategy elements to include more precautionary reference points for evaluation, including FSPR50% as a target and 30%SSBF=01 as a threshold reference point, which would provide a greater buffer from the limit reference point.

Adopt measures that support the recovery of oceanic whitetip sharks

CMM 2011-04 banned the retention of oceanic whitetip sharks in the western and central Pacific Ocean. Fishing mortality of this species has been reduced, but it is still too high—estimated at twice its maximum sustainable yield. Spawning biomass has been reduced to just 4 per cent of unfished biomass. The 2019 stock assessment concluded that there is a substantial risk that oceanic whitetip sharks will become extinct if the level of fishing mortality continues. The Scientific Committee (SC15) this year recommended more efforts to mitigate catch and improve safe handling and release practices. Prohibiting the use of wire leaders and shark lines would cut fishing-related mortality.2 Better safe-handling techniques, such as cutting the trailing gear as close to the hook as possible and keeping the shark in the water alongside the vessel, are also needed to further reduce mortality. Furthermore, SC15 urged that observer coverage on longline vessels be increased to improve data collection for longline fisheries. The WCPFC should:

  • Adopt more measures to reduce oceanic whitetip shark mortality, such as prohibiting wire leaders and shark lines and improving safe-handling techniques.
  • Increase observer coverage to improve data collection.

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