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State of play at Tuna Commission negotiations hard to predict
9:21 pm GMT+12, 13/12/2018, United States

By Pita Ligaiula in Waikiki, Honolulu
Negotiations on tropical tuna – the richest resource in the region – are proving difficult as Tuna Commission members struggle to reach consensus on two critical issues. 
With 24 hours to the end of the 15th Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, there appears to be a stand-off on the closure of High Seas Fish Aggregating Devices and the long-line limits that apply only for 2018. 
Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) advisor Wez Norris says it's always a difficult to try and predict how things will pan out at this stage of the meeting.
“We’ve been through really detailed discussions of all of the moving parts and you know there’s sort of progress and indications that we’re moving forward on some and pulling back on others but it really comes down to the final hoorah …when everybody is able to visualise what the whole package might look like and then hopefully jump forward and adopt it,” Norris said.
“There's some fairly critical issues that are still subject to very different positions among the commission membership and it relates to the fact that some of the elements expire this year and so there are different interests and different strengths that groups of commission members have depending on whether they want to see those messages continue or not.
Norris told Journalists in Honolulu that the High Seas FAD Closure and the long-line limits were the critical issues at play.
 “The two elements that expire that apply for 2018 only and therefore need to be revised in some way - the long-line catch limits obviously one of the absolute critical components to bigeye management and the High Seas FAD closure in the purse seine fishery and again that’s really critical for a couple of reasons in particular to the PNA.
“The first reason is that the catch rates of bigeye in the high seas are far higher than the catch rate of big eye in the exclusive economic zones and so we see that the High Seas FAD closure forms a critical part of the conservation effectiveness of the measure because it's reducing the take in the high seas.
“It's also really important as a balancing measure.” 
Norris said the PNA had spoken a lot about the concept of disproportionate burden over the last four or five years and felt that current measures weren’t well-balanced between the longline fishery and the purse seine fishery or between the exclusive economic zones and the high seas. 
“What it did was put a disproportionate burden on the PNA members because it reduces the profitability of the Purse Seine Fishery and therefore the reduces their ability for them to use that for economic development,” Norris said.
“So, having this additional High Seas FAD closure would be a really nice balancing element to removing the disproportionate burden which have been in the previous measure.
“If that goes we are left with an unbalanced measure and the PNA will have to make hard decisions on whether they can live with the EEZ FAD closure, whether it needs to be reduced as well.” 
Meanwhile, Norris said a new Longline proposal by the U.S would increase its catch by more than 30 per cent. 
“That links back to a paragraph that's in the measure that sort of invites this type of proposal for them. That sets up an allocation process for the High Seas purse seine fishery,” Norris said. 
“So, when those limits were agreed to be rolled over last year a number of commission members were not happy about it including PNA and so the measure establishes that the commission will do a better job of setting the limits in the High Seas and allocating them equitably among the members rather than the sort of ad hoc set of measures that are in place at the moment."
The PNA believes that the limits provide an excellent avenue with which to deal with the issue in a more substantive and sustainable way than the current method of topping up catches to meet certain circumstances.
Norris said the theory behind the proposal was that well-managed, well-monitored fisheries should be able to take a greater proportion of the stock as an incentive for everybody to increase their monitoring.
“And while incentives are a really good idea and something that the PNA strongly supports we've got our own programmes to increase electronic monitoring coverage in long line fisheries. That has to be done at a zero sum,” he said.
“You can't just keep rewarding as they monitor better and better because the fish stocks simply can't handle it.
“The only way it could work would be if those catch increases were taken away from another CCM (member nation) and obviously the likes of Japan and Korea when China and Chinese Taipei are not going to be particularly supportive of that.”
A second US proposal – linked to purse seine fisheries – is believed to be related to the economic difficulties faced by canneries in American Samoa.
“We had this discussion in Manila last year as well that the amount of product coming to coming through to the cannery at American Samoa is apparently very low and that obviously causes economic disruptions because they are so highly reliant on the cannery for employment,” Norris said.
“This is a very difficult one for the PNA and it’s quite a nuanced one for us to consider. On the one hand PNA are champions of this concept of disproportionate burden and so we are absolutely committed to making sure that WCPFC measures don’t put a disproportionate burden on any developing state or territory.
“But on the other hand, it’s really difficult to try and confirm that the difficulties American Samoa is facing are driven by the WCPFC measure and not by other things,”  he said.
The annual Tuna Commission talks end tomorrow.


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