The Western and Central Pacific is the world's largest tuna fishery, with millions of people depending on it for food and their livelihoods. It is also an economic lifeline for many of our region's small island states. But there is trouble in paradise. More and more boats are entering the fishery from developed nations eager to profit from this 7 billion USD per annum fishery. Pacific tuna stocks, in particular bigeye and yellowfin tuna, are at record low levels. The fishery cannot sustain this anymore and further controls need to be urgently adopted by the Pacific Tuna Commission which is meeting in Cairns this week.
Early this morning our activists unfurled a large floating banner next to a fleet of longline vessels in a harbour at the heart of the tuna fishing grounds in the Pacific, calling on the tuna commission to act now to end overfishing and reduce the number of fishing boats in the region. There are over 3600 longline vessels registered to fish in the Pacific under scant regulation, often transshipping their ill-gotten catches at sea resulting in prolific illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing in the region. And that's not all: These vessels target sharks for the lucrative shark fin trade and often provide their crew poor working conditions. Compounding the impact of out of control longline fishing is the use of destructive fish aggregation devices or FADs by purse seine fisheries.
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Close to half of bigeye tuna caught in the region every year is taken by purse seine vessels that are supposed to be targeting the more resilient skipjack – but in the process also catch bigeye tuna that haven’t had a chance to reach adulthood and reproduce.
Both the purse seine and longline fleets need to be brought under control in the Pacific this week if the region is to rescue its declining bigeye, yellowfin and albacore stocks. The root cause of there just being too many boats with improved tuna plundering technology and efficiency must be urgently addressed.
Greenpeace has provided clear steps on how Pacific Island countries can transform their tuna to ensure that fishing is more sustainable and socially responsible where the benefits of this multi-billion dollar industry flows back into the pacific benefiting small communities rather than into the hands of money hungry foreigners. We have even gone a step further and provided guidance on how the commission can ensure ocean friendly fishing in the region through an appropriate selection criterion for vessels that would ensure not only fewer boats and more fish but more 'socially' appropriate fishing vessels.
The science is clear and the countries that have profited from this fishery for the last decades now need to cut their fishing effort and fleet numbers in order to ensure a sustainable and profitable future. Greenpeace will be watching the negotiations with the expectation that effective action is taken to reverse years of overfishing, reduce capacity and return the fishery to a healthier state. The livelihoods of an entire region depend on the actions that must be taken this week in Cairns.
Duncan Williams is an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacifc