By ILIESA TORA
Da Nang, VIETNAM – December 2, 2022: 11.30am (Nuku’alofa Times): The 19th Session of the Tuna Commission (Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission) meeting ends here in Da Nang tomorrow morning.
And the two members of the WCPFC top brass are confident that there will be some resolutions adopted and others progressed when the last word is said here at the Roya Lotus Hotel Convention Centre.
It has not been an easy meeting, with so many key issues on the table.
There have been push for harvest plans for the different tuna fisheries.
Monitoring and observers use in the high seas, transshipment, labor issues, certification of the different products and stocks plus the management of other species like sharks and swordfish have been discussed here in the last four days.
On Thursday, the two top brass of the WCPFC, Chairlady Jungre Riley Kim and Executive Director Feleti Teo fronted the Pacific Media team covering the event here at a press conference.
They stated their confidence with how things have been progressed in some areas and their hope that other issues can also be progressed much quicker.
Coming back from the two years of COVID-19 challenges, Tuna fisheries in the region needs a boost.
While tuna stocks are mainly positive at the moment, future planning now will augur well with the world’s largest tuna sector.
And moving forward, the WCPFC will be led by a new Executive Director in Ms Rhea Moss-Christian of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
The former Chairlady takes over from April 2023, becoming the first-ever female to take the lead role in all five regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) in the world.
Here is the full interview with the WCPFC Chair and Executive Director:
PM: Can you please give us an update on what the WCPFC has been able to achieve so far in discussions that have been happening:
Chairlady: Okay, so we have many important agenda items to address at WCPFC19, including the harvest strategy, among which is a management procedure for skipjack. It is one of the most important tasks that we have to do this year. And there is a small working group formed to specifically address that issue, which is being led by the Republic of Marshall Islands.
And there have been two small working groups addressing that issue. And I think good progress has been made. And hopefully, we can leave this meeting with data management procedure for skipjack.
We are also revising harvest strategy work plan to incorporate some changes and although slowly but we are making progress on harvest strategy elements.
We are also going to deal with next steps for tropical tuna major revision. And we have some agreement on basic principles as to the next steps. And I am undertaking the draft work plan for next year. So that actually, the Commission can adopt a revised measure in 2024.
And another important piece is the CMS, the compliance monitoring scheme, which is one of the most important pillars of the Commission in terms of compliance monitoring. There are small intersessional working group works undertaken by various leads, including risk-based management framework and audit points and other issues and observer participation and corrective actions.
And we do have significant progress on audit points. We’ll be having report back from the audit points lead Rhea Moss-Christian tomorrow. And I am very proud that the Commission has one of the most advanced compliance monitoring scheme and we are still progressing.
And so basically, I’m very proud that the Commission has one of the most advanced compliance monitoring system and other issues involved Scientific Committee related works and we are also making good progresses on management procedure issues and harvest strategy issues and other ecosystem related species such as shark, seabirds and cetaceans. So I think we are making good progress on the agenda that we have set for ourselves this year. So I’m very positive.
Executive Director: Well, I think the Commission earlier in the week, also received the report from our scientific service provider in terms of the status of the stocks that we are, that the Commission, is charged for managing. And the good story continues. The key for commercialized tuna stock, skipjack yellowfin, bigeye and South Pacific Albacore continued to be managed as assessed above sustainable level. And that is a feat that no other regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) around the world can boast off. So it’s a status report that the Commission, this year, got to receive.
Chairlady: And also we made some progress on the report regarding climate change consideration. In Port Moresby, the Commission adopted a resolution on climate change. And to deliver on that commitment outlined in the resolution this year, the Commission agreed to have standing agenda items related to climate change responses, not only in the scientific committee, but also in the Northern committee and the Commission. And that is a very significant delivery of the commitment we made through the 2019 resolution on climate change.
Adoption of plan
PM: So the management procedures for skipjack looks like it’s going to be adopted. So what does that mean?
Chairlady: So, we have a work plan. There are some steps into a management procedure. So let me reference points and target reference points and that lead to MSC and management procedure. And there are no species where a management procedure is being applied for now.
And Skipjack tuna is one of the most advanced stocks when it comes to harvest strategy. So, we do have limit reference point for skip Jack and interim target reference points for skipjack. And if you do adopt a management procedure for skip jack at the full cycle of a carbon strict strategy is being applied to the skipjack stock.
Executive Director: Just to be clear on how this strategy works because this is a new approach to fisheries management. What the Commission has been doing over the past decade or so is a reactionary sort of management approach, where when a tuna stock reached a critical status then the Commission reacts to put in place measures and addresses that critical situation, which is always difficult because countries have their own commercial interest well entrenched.
And it’s very difficult to negotiate measures in response to a crisis. What the management strategy approach brings to the fore is that the Commission will negotiate rules in advance of a crisis, in advance of a stock reaching a crisis. So once a a crisis point is triggered, then there are already pre agreed rules as to how to manage that situation.
This year, the Commission is considering Skipjack management procedures. But the whole game plan is to have similar harvest strategy for the tuna stock for highly commercialized tuna stock. So this is an entirely new approach to fisheries management, and one that will hopefully take the politics out of fisheries management
PM: What’s the management plan and how can that be implemented because some NGOs say they are not binding at least for six years?
Chairlady: I’m not sure what the six years mentioned means but there are some different views on how to apply the management procedures if adopted, but they’ll be certainly incorporated into stock management from the point of adoption.
So the adopted plan per se can be directly applied to the fisheries management but the components can be incorporated into the tropical tuna measure because tropical tuna measure include skipjack and bigeye and yellowfin. So the management procedure component can be incorporated in a revised tropical tuna measure that the Commission is going to adopt next year.
And for your information, there’s very entertaining video made by SPC, so you can search for it on YouTube. If you search for WCPFC harvest strategy, there are videos.
Executive Director: I think another point that needs to be made clear is the Commission’s decisions are legally binding. So once adopted they are legally enforceable, but what some group of members are saying is that the management procedures can only apply for a six year and then subject to further review. When once adopted, it’s legally binding for whatever interim period that they may prescribe at the end of this week. That’s what it means here. Any decision of the commission once it’s agreed to adopt, it’s legally binding as to when the commission decide for that decision to come into force.
PM: So it’s safe to say you are making you making plans ow when the stock is still good for the possibility that to have something binding already should you reach that critical point. Then there will be no need to be rushing around trying to figure out
Executive Director: One other classic example, the last time the Commission was placed in a difficult one was when big eye stock was assessed to be subject to over-fishing and as a result of that, negotiating a tropical tuna that address big eye was a difficult one, because the Commission is reacting to a situation that is existing in a critical situation. With this new approach to fisheries management, the strategy is to agree on the rules as to what will apply before the actual situation arises.
At the moment the element that is needed for skipjack are there. So the Commission is progressing with skipjack first, the other species, there’s still a lot of work, technical work that needs to be done.
PM: What’s the Commission’s view in regards to the MSCS threat that if the management measures are not adopted, they will suspend Pacific fishery?
Executive Director: Well, the issue of MSC certification has not been a topic on the Commission’s agenda. But the Commission is aware that whatever their decision it impacts on some of the members efforts to get some of the fishing operations certified by MSC because it attracted a higher high premium.
One of those criteria MSC is the adoption and implementation of harvest strategies. And obviously, the Commission, due to the COVID situation and its inability to meet physically, that has delayed and impacted the progress of adoption of those implementations.
From what I understand about this, that MSC is trying to put pressure on the Commission and the members to hurry the adoption of those and at the same time threatening to withdraw their certifications. So that’s a difficult one because the Commission is not actually dealing with MSC certification because that’s a separate process.
But the Commission is trying to help its member achieve some of the progress in as far as other strategy is concerned so that their MSC certification status continued to be maintained.
Well, it’s a difficult one, because as far as the tropical tuna measure, which is our signature management measure, it’s delivering on its objective. Despite the absence of having a harvest strategy the tunas are being properly managed. So yeah.
PM: Going back from COVID, how soon do you think you’ll have a full observer coverage back on purse-seine vessels? And how do you think we will have before we have 20% coverage on longline?
Executive Director: The Commission has already decided to lift the suspension and impose 100% coverage from the beginning of next year for all purse seiners. The long line observer coverage is always a difficult one. And that’s why the Commission is moving very quickly on electronic monitoring. So that at least there is an alternative option to provide the data gaps on a long line.
Not as quickly as we had wanted but the Commission has already a dedicated working group that looks into electronic reporting and electronic monitoring.
Some countries have already trialed but the Commission, as a whole, hasn’t quite get the standard adopted because what the Commission needs to do is to set up basic standards and criteria so that when they are fully implemented, the member countries can choose or pick whatever technologies that they want to collect those data.
But it has to be compatible with a standard that the Commission has set. And that’s a concentration of the Commission at the moment to get those basic standards and specification adopted.
PM: Is there a difference between adoption and implementation? Are they separate?
Chairlady: It’s hard to think adoption and implementation separately, because like the lady mentioned, once adopted, the measure becomes binding. And that means that measure must be implemented. So I am not sure what where that misunderstanding is coming from. Once we adopt a management procedure for skipjack, that will be implemented. But how they will be implemented depends on the data and commission members because it’s a mixed fishery, and we need to think about bigeye and yellowfin and how skipjack management procedure interact with other species. So we are going to revise tropical tuna measure next year, and how an MP that we are going to adopt this year interphase with all the components depends on how revised measure looks like, what it looks like. And what we can tell you for sure is that once it’s adopted, it’s going to be implemented.
Executive Director: We need to adopt a decision first. So this week we’re talking adoption because we aim at the end of the week to adopt a measure. And once adopted then the legal obligation, to implement that decision kicks in. So for this week, we’re talking adoption with trying to adopt management procedures.
But once adopted then all the members of the Commission are now legally obliged to implement that. That’s when the implementation issue comes in. And then every year after a decision is being adopted there is a mechanism and one of the critical tool at the Commission is the compliance monitoring scheme. And that schemes provide the Commission with the ability to assess how its members have implemented the form that obligations that emigrate collectively. So that’s how it works.
PM: Has stock assessments been conducted throughout COVID up until now?
Executive Director: There’s an agreed schedule of stock assessment. It happens every year for stock that be assessed. Skipjack was done this year and there are two others. The sub assessment schedule not only deal with tuna stocks it also covers the swordfish stock and even the sharks stocks. If you go to our website, there is a schedule there that sets out forecasts for those stocks and the stock assessment schedule.
PM: What are your comments in regards to the appointment of the new Executive Director?
Chairlady: Okay so she was my predecessor as the Commission chair and I had been working with her very closely because I was the Vice Chair when she was chairing the Commission.
And she was chairing very difficult meetings and those meetings dealt with the revision of tropical tuna measure. And she showed excellent leadership and I actually learned so much from her and that really helped me a lot when I chaired the meetings over the last four years.
She is one of the most competent and talented people I’ve ever known. And I think the Commission is very lucky to have her as the Executive Director. And I think she holds a lot of records. For she was the youngest and the first female Commission chair.
And now she is the first female executive director in any of the five regional fishing management organisations. I have such a high expectations of her. And I think she will trail ablaze for a lot of young women and girls in the Pacific. And I know that the Pacific has a very strong culture surrounding women’s power and empowerment. So I think she’ll set a very good example in front of us as well.
Executive Director: I share the same experience as the Chairlady because when I was appointed eight years ago, the same Commission also made the appointment of Rhea as the chair of the Commission. I worked with her for four years, and have worked now with Riley for four years so the only chair I know for the Commission are women. Very good.
PM: What do you really want to see happen by Saturday?
Executive Director: Before we turn up in Danang, the Commission sent a letter to member countries setting her priorities as to what she wants to achieve here, which, as the Secretariat we do support so we share the the same sentiment and we would like to tick off all those boxes, including the adoption of the management procedure for skipjack. We’ve got a new executive director lined up to take over from me in March when I leave, and so we want to tick off on all those boxes.
PM: Can you tell us a bit about what the progress has been made on labour issues and welfare for both observers and fishing crews?
Chairlady: So a small working group is being held as we speak upstairs and they are discussing labor standard issues. And there have been some working group meetings intersectionally in a virtual manner. And this is the first opportunity for them to discuss this matter in person. So I hope some progress can be made. And like you said WCPFC is leading on this front and labor issues can no longer separate from fisheries related issues, because they are about the people and the environment. I hope some progress can be made and set an example to other fisheries organizations. e cannot say for sure anything at this stage. But after this meeting, where we have clear pictures, we can share more hopefully.
Executive Director: We have the resolution on crew standards. And the resolution in terms of the language of the Commission it’s non- legally binding. It’s sort of an aspirational statement by the Commission. What the working group that is meeting right now are trying to do is to convert that into a more stronger legally binding decision of the Commission which will be in terms of a conservation and management measure on labor standard. And as the Chair commented earlier the Pacific Tuna Commission is the first one to do that. And the climate change issue has now being agreed to be a permanent regular item on the Commission agenda.
Note: PM – Means Pacific Media team; Chairlady – means the WCPFC chair; Executive Director – means the WCPFC Executive Director
- The coverage of the 19th WCPFC has been made possible with funding from the Forum Fisheries Agency and its partners