Greenpeace activists display a banner on the the Aloha Tower at the Aloha Tower Marketplace in Honolulu, Hawaii. Greenpeace demands that the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, at its annual meeting nearby, live up to its mandate and protect the region’s tuna stocks.
Last week's meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) ended in a sad day for the tuna, whales, and whale sharks, as well as those whose livelihoods depend upon the Pacific Ocean's resources.
Greenpeace is disappointed with the failure of governments to agree to a proposal for more sustainable management of the Pacific fisheries. Drafted by a group of Pacific Island nations, this historical proposal would have closed international waters between their borders to all destructive tuna purse-seine fishing.
Also rejected were measures designed to address tuna declines, clamp down on pirate fishing and halt biodiversity loss.
Powerful fishing industry interests
The European Union and South Korea were opposed to closing additional areas of international waters. Even after photos of a whale shark caught by a purse seiner shamed the room to silence, Japan eventually spoke up demanding to continue this disgraceful practice.
Until recently, the Pacific was the home to the world's last abundant tuna fisheries - around 60% of the global population. But without immediate, substantial changes to fishing regulations, Pacific tuna will be irrevocably over-fished. Bigeye and yellowfin are already in serious trouble, and even skipjack - once considered virtually limitless - is now in decline, fished at rates unsustainable in the long term.
Only 5-6% of the value of tuna caught in the Pacific goes to Pacific island nations, through licensing fees. The lion's share of the tuna is caught by distant-water fleets from Taiwan, Japan, China, the US, South Korea, among others.
Small steps forward for Taiwan
One small success for Greenpeace East Asia was the change of attitude from Taiwan's Fisheries Administration. After months of extensive lobbying and a petition with 10,160 signatures from Greenpeace, Taiwan did not oppose the Pacific Islands' high-seas closure proposal.
What's more, despite initial opposition, Taiwan eventually reversed its position to support a Special Management Area for High Seas Area 3. The proposal was eventually approved by the WCPFC. It would require ships fishing in High Seas Area 3 to submit to Vessel Management System (VMS) monitoring to reduce illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Bordering the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Kiribati, High Seas Area 3 is also known as the Moana or Sea Turtle Reserve, and is home to extraordinary wildlife diversity. Unfortunately, this area is also a prime area of activity for pirate fishing. Last year, 6 out of 9 cases of illegal Pacific fishing took place in this area of remarkable beauty.
Frozen tuna on a Taiwanese fishing vessel
Taiwan has the largest distant-waters fishing fleet in the Western and Central Pacific, which is the source for over 90% of its distant-water industries production. Greenpeace is encouraged to see Taiwan's Fisheries Administration take one small step in the right direction.
A future for tuna?
As a campaigner from Greenpeace Australia-Pacific reminds us, Pacific Island nations depend on tuna for their survival, yet they are not even the main players in their own oceans. They are forced to sell fishing licenses to foreign nations for artificially low rates - paying pennies for massive exploitation.
"Taiwan has made one small step in the right direction toward protecting tuna, but they need to do more," commented Greenpeace oceans campaigner Yu-fen Chen, based in Taipei. "They must strengthen the regulations of their enormous fishing fleet, crack down on illegal fishing, and actively support proposals for sustainable oceans management and the establishment of marine reserves. Taiwan should be a pro-active leader in international meetings on sustainability, to ensure the long-term sustainability of not only Pacific tuna but also our own fishing industries."