Duncan Williams onboard the Rainbow Warrior in 2011
The week long meeting of the Pacific tuna commission (WCPFC) ended in what will be one of the worst outcomes for tuna conservation this commission has seen. After over a year of talks and advice from scientists concerned that current efforts for managing “at risk” tuna populations in the Pacific were failing to achieve desired results, the WCPFC decided to ignore its scientists and delay negotiating new, stronger conservation measures. To the joy of pirate fishers in the region (and large-scale industrial fishing operations) the commission opted instead to carry on with the current failings for one more year minus one crucial element – an area of high seas closed to tuna purse seine fishing called the Pacific Commons.
The commission (thanks to efforts by Japan, EU, Korea, Taiwan, China) opened up the marine reserve-like Pacific Commons to allow (in principle) free-for-all tuna fishing.
Following pressure by Japan the commission also failed,to put a stop to the practice of fishing vessels indirectly targeting whale sharks for tuna despite pressure from Greenpeace and other nations wanting to protect these iconic animals from such a barbaric practice.
A whale shark caught as bycatch in the Pacific
The WCPFC refused to extend the ban on fish aggregating devices (FADs) despite WCPFC’s scientists recommending the current three month ban be extended by up to six months. FADs are responsible for the wholesale death of baby tuna, sharks and turtles and are a major cause for the decline of the valuable bigeye tuna.
It doesn’t end there, though: the commission swept aside discussions to limit albacore tuna fishing, increasingly at risk from longline fishing boats migrating from the Indian Ocean, without licenses and no doubt will be fishing illegally.
Last week, when it really mattered most, when the WCPFC should have upheld its commitment to ensure tuna supplies and tuna fishing jobs for the future, it failed miserably. Pacific tuna is running out fast and the commission meant to “manage” them has walked away from its responsibility to implement meaningful conservation measures.
The small island nations desperate to retain the closure of the Pacific Commons and strengthen the ban on FADs were no match for the distant water fishing powers’ lobbying efforts led by Japan, EU, Korea, China and Taiwan. They simply vetoed many of the sensible proposals or skillfully steered negotiations toward the watered-down outcomes we have now.
However, all was not lost! The commission did manage to agree to prohibit its purse seine fleets from directly targeting whales and the vulnerable white tip shark was given the protection it needs.
For those of us working hard to defend our Pacific and ensure our tuna has a long-term future, the road to the next commission meeting will be filled with challenges. But, as Hannibal, the great mountain-crossing general once said: “We will find a way, or make one.”
Duncan Williams is an oceans campaigner in Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s Fiji office in Suva.