WCPFC ends year on high note for harvest strategies

December 22, 2023

AuthorDr. Tom Pickerell

WCPFC ends year on high note for harvest strategies


David Gershman
Officer, International Fisheries

When the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) wrapped up December 8th after a marathon 19-hour final day of negotiations in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, members had made significant progress in the development of harvest strategies for skipjack and albacore tunas.

Fisheries for skipjack tuna from this region supply more than half of the skipjack for canning worldwide. In 2022, WCPFC adopted a management procedure (MP) for skipjack tuna, but it failed to ensure a clear link between the output of the MP and the controls on catch and effort on the water, which are managed by a separate conservation and management measure on tropical tunas.

This year, WCPFC adopted a provision in the tropical tuna measure that effectively implements the MP’s output. This language, proposed by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency – which includes the Pacific Small Island Developing States and Australia and New Zealand – ensures that if the MP-based cap on total effort/catch for purse seine and pole and line fisheries are exceeded, the tropical tuna measure will be re-negotiated to keep fishing within the MP’s levels. This is a very positive step as the Commission works toward developing hard limits for all purse seine fleets fishing on the high seas and an allocation framework in the coming years. Development of the skipjack MP was led by the Pacific Island member States, and the adoption of this language demonstrates the commitment of those members to ensuring the success of the MP.

Albacore tuna stocks in the northern and southern hemispheres also got a boost. WCPFC adopted the operational piece (i.e., a formulaic harvest control rule) of a fully specified MP for north Pacific albacore, mirroring an agreement from August by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission which manages the stock in the eastern Pacific. This creates the first pan-Pacific and multi-RFMO MP. Although the WCPFC agreement was not drafted as a conservation and management measure (CMM) and is instead considered a binding harvest strategy, it sets clear expectations for management of the stock that should be bedded into a CMM when the Commission does more work next year to translate the MP-calculated fishing intensity into on-the-water controls.

To the south, the Commission revised a proposal by several south Pacific nations and Australia and adopted an updated interim target reference point (iTRP) for south Pacific albacore. The revised iTRP is defined as 4 percent less than the average level of spawning biomass experienced during the period of 2017-19, currently equivalent to 49% of unfished biomass, a level that is seen as precautionary. The stock is healthy, though declining, and the iTRP is necessary to advance the development of a full MP to bring greater stability and economic profitability to the fishery.

To that end, the Commission agreed to hold a scientist-manager dialogue meeting in 2024 with a focus on reviewing the performance of proposed harvest control rules for south Pacific albacore. That meeting will also discuss the development of target reference points for bigeye and yellowfin tunas, and review a monitoring plan for skipjack tuna. The first scientist-manager dialogue held in 2022 was successful in advancing development of the skipjack MP forward to adoption that year, and this agreement to hold a second dialogue meeting sets up 2024 as a year to make further progress on the development of harvest strategies.

With these decisions, WCPFC members have shown how they can work together to develop more modern approaches to managing these globally significant tuna fisheries, ending 2023 on a high note for harvest strategies. We look forward to even more progress next year.

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