Three actions countries managing Tuna need to take this week

Whether you enjoy eating tuna in your lunchbox sandwich, have a stake in the long-term sustainability and livelihoods of Pacific tuna fishing nations, or simply care about the future of healthy oceans and fish populations—it’s worth taking note of an important convening this week that could decide the future of sustainable tuna.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), an international treaty organization of 35 member nations and territories charged with negotiating the management for tuna, sharks and rays, is meeting this week in Honolulu. These species are classified as highly migratory, meaning they swim through internationally managed waters, making collective management a necessity.

Tuna in particular, are highly valuable and face several thorny challenges that have resulted in less than optimal socioeconomic and biological performance, including weaknesses in current management that has allowed illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, interactions with sharks, as well as human rights abuses. That’s why decisions made at this forum are so important.

The ultimate goal is to manage for healthy tuna populations that can support both the livelihoods and food security for Pacific Islands fishing communities and a thriving global industry. To achieve both of these outcomes, nations must put politics aside and focus on putting science-based management in place to rebuild tuna populations to a level that can support sustainable harvesting by all users now and for the future.

Specific outcomes we’d like to see:

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and our fishing partners in the region have identified three important decisions the Commission can make this week to set the course for thriving tuna populations.

1. Improve management and monitoring of longline fishing activities. Monitoring of longline fishing activities in the Western and Central Pacific is extremely limited, currently less than 5% of fishing trips carry human observers. The lack of monitoring prevents transparency in the fishery, creating opportunities for illegal and unreported fishing activities, poor treatment of crew and illegal shark finning. EDF, along with other environmental organizations working in the region, are advocating for the Commission to move towards 100% monitoring of longline fishing activities and a review and eventual strengthening of the measure that manages the movement of fish between fishing vessels, known as transshipment.

2. Advance work plan to achieve sustainable tuna stocks. A work plan to develop harvest strategies for these species was adopted in 2015, but is facing delays in implementation. Our goal is for the Commission to reinvigorate their efforts to translate this plan into practice to ensure sustainability of these key stocks. The harvest strategies approach would allow for more nimble responses to changes in the health of important species and ensure management decisions are driven by shared and agreed upon goals.

3. Support the establishment of specific management goals, known as reference points, for the Southern Albacore tuna fishery. Specifically we hope to see the Commission adopt a “target reference point” (TRP), which is the level of albacore abundance at which fishing countries will work together to maintain over the long-term. This will ensure catch and effort in the fishery are sustainable and take into account the socioeconomic needs and rights of the Pacific Islands.

The Pacific Islands Tuna Industry Association (PITIA), which works directly with Pacific Islands fishers sees the adoption of a TRP by the Commission as a key component for the vitality of its industry members.  “We all have a shared goal of ensuring sustainable fisheries,” said John Maefiti, Executive Officer of PITIA. “At present the stock isn’t large enough to support the Pacific Island communities and industry that depend on this fishery. Adopting a TRP for the Southern Pacific Albacore fishery can help rebuild it to economically viable levels again for the tuna industry. These management measures will not only make the Pacific Island fleets more profitable, but the fleets from distant water nations more profitable as well.”

We will be actively engaged at the meeting this week, watching for the Commission members to make the right decisions for tuna management and looking forward to continued engagement with stakeholders in the region. There’s too much at stake for us to not act now.

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New hope for Indigenous fishing communities in Chile

On a cold morning, we descend a bumpy dirt road through a forest of ancient alerce trees. As the forest clears, we arrive at a rugged coastline, dotted with fishing villages. The smell of smoke rises through the fog and combines with a salty sea breeze as villagers warm bread over their wood stoves, and fishers ready their boats for a day on the water. For centuries, these Indigenous Mapuche villages have lived off the thriving marine life of the Humboldt Current, a cold upwelling on Chile’s west coast that delivers abundance and a source of food and livelihood from the sea to the whole nation.

Photo credit Luciano Hiriart-Bertrand, Costa Humboldt

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The Fisheries White Paper, and Beyond

The UK Fisheries White Paper has finally landed. This hugely anticipated document provides a blueprint for future fisheries management in the UK as it forges the country’s own path after Brexit.  The paper sets out aspirations for achieving a ‘gold standard’ for UK fisheries management – an area which the paper acknowledges is of ‘totemic importance’.

A fresh start is a rare thing in fisheries management, and there’s plenty to indicate that the UK is ambitious in making the most of re-defining its approach to fisheries science and international relationships when it comes to our seas. We welcome innovative approaches to managing quota, such as the Government’s planned quota reserve, which will pool new quota potentially resulting from Brexit negotiations. This shows Government are switched on to the power of quota-based incentives to support best practice in sustainable fishing (as described in my previous blog on quota).  Concerns remain, however that there is still an imbalance between large and small scale operators and that Government should do more to make quota available to smaller, low impact vessels. Read More »

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In Sinaloa, Mexico fishermen are rewriting their legacy

A year ago, Fidel Insunza was not very optimistic about his future in fishing. With more than 30 years on the water, he has seen prosperous times come and go in Altata-Ensenada del Pabellon, a coastal lagoon system in Sinaloa, Mexico. Back in the “good days,” as he calls them, his income allowed him to buy a brand new pick-up truck or take his whole family on vacation to participate in Mazatlan’s famous Carnival. “Those were the days,” he recalls with nostalgia. Today, his income has reduced to a third of what it used to be. But he is not ready to give up on fishing just yet. “This is my life, the heart of my community, and I would choose to be a fisherman once more if I was born again. The only difference is that I would do it more responsibly,” he says. Read More »

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The remarkable recovery of U.S. fisheries continues

Credit: John Rae

At a time when there is significant concern about the erosion of environmental protections, a new report card from the National Marine Fisheries Service confirms that one of the most important conservation success stories of our time remains on track. The turnaround of U.S. fisheries is a remarkable bipartisan success story. This week’s annual Status of U.S. Fisheries report documents how a recovery kick-started during George W. Bush’s time in office, then accelerated under President Obama, held pace during the Trump administration’s first year.

Getting fishery management right is incredibly complex, as illustrated by a history of failure in the United States that spanned decades. Those failures too often deprived saltwater anglers of abundant target stocks, removed local catch from restaurant menus and grocery stores, and created hardship for coastal communities. Yet it is increasingly clear that the United States has now built many of the laws, regulations and institutions needed to meet this complex challenge. If we stay the course, the dividends of our hard-won gains will only grow. Read More »

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Indonesia advances sustainable fishing

In my 20 years working with fishery stakeholders in the United States, I saw time and again that good things happen when we band together to solve difficult problems.

I’m seeing it again now, in Indonesia, where I’ve been working as part of a team with local stakeholders to reshape their community fisheries.

In Indonesia’s Lampung Province, a collaborative effort to reform the local blue swimming crab fishery is not only leading to new protections for crab populations and habitat, and the communities that depends on them, but could also serve as a model for reform in other small-scale fisheries in Indonesia and around the world.

Credit: Alexis Rife

Two million Indonesian fishers and millions of others rely on the coast for their food and livelihoods. More than half of the nation’s animal protein comes from seafood. The country is one of the world’s largest seafood producers and exporters, and blue swimming crab is among its most important species, generating more than $300 million of economic activity a year. Read More »

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