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Behavior Change
WWF to Fisheries:
Catch 50% Less or Lose Pacific Bluefin Tuna Altogether

The long-term sustainability of the Pacific Bluefin Tuna fishery can only be guaranteed by following the science and halving catch limits, WWF will tell the two Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) covering the Pacific.

The 21 country and European Union members of the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) meeting this week in Lima, Peru will be faced with findings that measures of Pacific Bluefin tuna breeding stock have declined from their unfished levels by more than 96 percent. Also concerning is the fact that about 90 percent of the fished species are young fish that have not yet reproduced. The advice from experts of the International Scientific Committee (ISC) for tuna on how overfished Pacific Bluefin tuna must also be taken to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Samoa in December.

Tuna is one of the most valuable fisheries in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, supporting a billion-dollar industry that sustains the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people and contributes to economic growth and social development in the region.

“It is vital that the member states of the IATTC expand their commitment to the responsible management necessary for sustainable levels of tuna stocks while ensuring a healthy long-term shark population at the same time,” said Pablo Guerrero, Eastern Pacific Ocean Tuna Coordinator for WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative.

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While the main market for the endangered fish is Japan, Mexico, the United States and South Korea are the other major countries fishing Pacific bluefin,

“Management measures in the Eastern Pacific and Western and Central Pacific are totally insufficient to preserve the Pacific Bluefin tuna stock. Only a 50 percent reduction of catches and stringent measures to protect juveniles can ensure a long-term sustainability of this fishery,” Guerrero added.

The IATTC set a quota for the tuna catch in the eastern Pacific for the first time in June 2012. Last year, the Commission established that commercial catches in the Eastern Pacific should not exceed 5,000 metric tons in 2014, but the WWF now says only the significant reduction of this quota might help Pacific bluefin tuna populations to recover.

“Delegates to the Lima meeting need to agree to a catch limit of 2,750 metric tons to be consistent with the ISC’s recommendation of a 50 percent reduction of catches,“ Guerrero said.

For tuna fisheries generally, WWF is highlighting “a clear fishing overcapacity in the Eastern Pacific that undermines the economic performance of the fleet and if not properly controlled, can lead to overfishing of the main tuna stocks.” WWF is calling on IATTC for an urgent reduction plan to meet the purse seine fishery capacity levels set out in its 2005 Plan for Management of Regional Capacity, given that current recorded capacity levels exceed these limits by more than a third.

“We are hoping that the Pacific Ocean tuna fishers will see it is in their best interests to address this issue of too many boats chasing too few fish and avoid more draconian management measures such as extended closed seasons and areas.”

The IATTC should also adopt conservation measures to reduce fishing mortality of silky sharks in order to rebuild the stock of these sharks in the EPO, and also totally prohibit the removal of fins at sea and to require that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached. IATTC members should adopt the scientific recommendations on best practices for handling mantarays aboard purse seiners.

Other measures which could make tuna fisheries more sustainable include: mandatory IMO (International Maritime Organization) numbers for all purse seiners and long liners greater than 20m in length operating in the Convention area to monitor and control existing fishing capacity; to provide additional data on movement of FADs (Fish Aggregated Devices) to the Commission, and to mark and identify these devices. And finally, that fishing fleets using FADs avoid the use of any entangling material deployed beneath them in order to reduce by catch of sea turtles and sharks.

In March, the Pacific island-nation of Palau announced its plans to ban all commercial fishing vessels from its waters, creating a marine reserve covering roughly 230,000 square miles, an area of ocean slightly smaller than the size of France. The move is significant for the country, which is located in the part of the Pacific inhabited by the world’s last healthy stock of tuna — worth an estimated $5.5 billion. Commercial fishing, largely by Japan and Taiwan, currently represents $5 million annually, or 3.3 percent of Palau’s GDP. But Palau argues that its tourist diving industry is far more significant, bringing in $85.3 million a year.

This isn’t the first move by Palau to attempt to protect its marine life from exploitation. In 1992, Palau and seven of its neighbors — Micronesia, Kiribati, Nauru, the Marshall Islands, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Tuvalu — called the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) — signed an agreement stating that they’d collaboratively manage their tuna stocks and limit fishing in their waters. The PNA’s collective stocks account for nearly half of the world’s skipjack tuna — America’s favorite fish — and nearly a third of the world’s total tuna population.