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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center

With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Tuna Commission Meeting Critical For Conservation Measures
Regional fisheries managers not optimistic ahead of Manila talks

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Nov. 26, 2012) – Hoping for the best, but expecting the worst sums up RMI fisheries boss Glen Joseph’s thinking as he and other island fisheries’ officials head to Manila this weekend to prepare for a momentous annual meeting of the Pacific’s Tuna Commission.

Tuna conservation measures have expired and island nations are seeking a strong declaration supporting both conservation and development of the islands’ tuna industry from the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission when it meets in Manila on Dec. 2-6. But Joseph is predicting these hopes will hit roadblocks in the form of distant water fishing nation members of the commission.

"When we combine the economics of the tuna industry and the status of fish stocks, we get fireworks," said Joseph, director of the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority. "Scientists are raising a red flag about overfishing of bigeye tuna, but the price of tuna is at an all time high. Where’s the balance between conservation and fishing? I hope it will come out of Manila."

Based on statements coming out of the European Union and other distant water fishing nations, however, Joseph is not optimistic.

The Forum Fisheries Agency and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement have increased their control of the Pacific’s fishing industry over the past several years. But some distant water fishing nation members of the Tuna Commission have indicated in the lead-up to next month’s meeting that they don’t support conservation measures promoted by the islands or demands of the islands for domestic industry development support — what the islands refer to as "development aspirations of small island states."

"Powerful members of the Tuna Commission look right past the coastal states," said Joseph of the distant water fishing nations. "It’s like we don’t exist."

He said he did not like the fact that island nations must keep defending their measures to sustain the industry for the long term against big fishing nations. This is particularly so because the WCPFC convention specifically spells out the rights of the resource owners — the islands — and the distant water fishing nations that signed the convention are bound by this. He expects a battle in Manila. "In the world of globalization we’ll have to go to Manila to defend what is ours," he said.

In light of red flags being raised by scientists about possible over-fishing of bigeye and concern that yellowfin tuna catches are near or above their maximum sustainable yield, the need for conservation and management of tuna — such as PNA has enforced in recent years, with Tuna Commission backing — is obvious, he said.

"There is a lot at stake in Manila," he said. "What would be the worst is no conservation measures at all. That would be a failure for everyone."

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