Pacific Tuna Management a Void

Press release - December 5, 2014
Greenpeace is urging tuna traders and investors to fill the void created by the Western and Central Fisheries Commission (WCPFC)’s failure to manage Pacific tuna fisheries. “In the absence of any real action at this week’s WCPFC talkfest, the market end of the supply chain must step up and use their influence to ensure both they and Pacific tuna have a future,” says Lagi Toribau of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

Government representatives who met in Samoa this week for the 11th session of the WCPFC not only failed the countries they were there representing, they also failed the Pacific. Dooming the region’s fisheries with their inability to reach agreement over urgently needed rules to halt declines and give tuna stocks time to recover from overfishing.

“If members represent only their industrial fishing interest, the WCPFC cannot function. Bigeye tuna are overfished, albacore fisheries are no longer profitable, and yellowfin and even skipjack tuna are starting to buckle under the strain of a fishery out of control. What was their response? Five days of talk and no real action,” says Toribau.

No new rules were added to the WCPFC’s tropical tuna conservation and management measure, despite last year’s record high catch of bigeye tuna by purse seiners using FADs, and the latest stock assessment revealing overfishing has driven the stock down to just 16%.

“This is completely unacceptable and the governments that make up this Commission need to be held accountable by their people. The commission failed to pass a single one of the proposals put forward by Pacific Island Nations to save these fish – and the fisheries that depend upon them.”

Lack of consensus also thwarted attempts to stop the demise of the region’s albacore fisheries. “The failure at WCPFC has left Pacific Islands’ albacore fisheries dead in the water,” says Toribau, “Last year, despite the declining stock driving Pacific fleets out of business, China’s delegation declared that its industries wanted to build up to one hundred more longline vessels to target South Pacific albacore. (1) Under the pressure of its distant water fishing industry, the Chinese government this year refused to accept limits on this fishery.”

Pacific countries took matters into their own hands last week, agreeing the Tokelau Arrangement to cooperatively manage South Pacific albacore. Unfortunately distant water fishing nations did not join the effort at the WCPFC, leaving the high seas an albacore free-for-all that is sucking the life out of the fishery.

Reacting to this systemic failure, Greenpeace turns its attention to the markets. “International tuna brands should ensure their suppliers are not involved in driving Pacific fisheries collapse, or partner with distant-water fishing powers that are expanding their longline fleets or plundering bigeye with the use of FADs – all the while blocking conservation rules from being adopted”.

On sharks, the Commission failed to adopt proposals from the Pacific and European Union that would have clamped down on shark finning. “This leaves it in the hands of tuna brands to ensure that their supply chain doesn’t produce shark fins as well as tuna cans.”

This isn’t the first time Greenpeace has urged seafood traders to lead the way, but the issue has become much more extreme. “Governments are clearly failing in their duty to protect this source of food, jobs and economic security,” says Toribau, “In the absence of real leadership, industry and traders are running Pacific tuna fisheries into the ground. They may not technically be breaking the law, but they’re destroying an industry that dozens of countries, and hundreds of thousands of people rely on for survival.”

Greenpeace urges companies to support sustainable local fisheries and shun fleets that are exacerbating the plunder of Pacific tuna. “They need to act now,” says Toribau. “Supporting sustainability protects their viability, and we’ll hold them to account if they do not.”


(1) Paragraph 345 of the Meeting Summary of WCPFC 10, December 2013. At that time China had just under 300 vessels in the South Pacific albacore fishery.