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 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 for the 11th session of the WCPFC this week not only failed their home countries, they failed the Pacific. Dooming the region’s fisheries by their inability to agree to urgently needed rules to halt declines and give tuna stocks time to recover from overfishing.
“If members only represent industrial fishing interests, the WCPFC can’t 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. But what do they do? Five days of talk and no real action,” says Toribau.
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%, no new rules were added to the WCPFC’s tropical tuna conservation and management measure.
“This is completely unacceptable. The governments represented on 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 declared it wanted to build up to one hundred more longline vessels to target South Pacific albacore. This year China again refused to accept even a cap on this fishery, let alone the urgent reductions needed to restore profitability.”
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 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, nor should they partner with distant-water fishing powers that expand their longline fleets or plunder bigeye using FADs, while blocking conservation rules from being adopted”.
Sharks fair no better, the Commission failed to adopt proposals from the Pacific and European Union that would have clamped down on shark finning. Toribau says, “Tuna brands must start behaving ethically and guarantee consumers that their supply chains don’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’re going to start holding them to account if they don’t.”