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By Pita Ligaiula in Denarau
The week-long Tuna Commission negotiations that wrap up in Nadi today have created deep disappointments for Pacific countries but also some encouraging steps forward, according to the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).
Progress with harvest strategies for the four main commercial tuna species (skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye and albacore) is a top for Pacific nations at the Tuna Commission Wez Norris deputy director general of the Forum Fisheries Agency told Pacific journalists.
After 4 days of negotiations Norris said he is ‘very disappointed’ with progress for Albacore, the species most important to south Pacific countries in the sub-tropical region but there has been ‘good progress’ in other areas.
Over the past decade Albacore tuna stocks have dropped to a level which makes it uneconomic for the Pacific tuna industry to fish but foreign subsidised vessels are still viable.
FFA countries asked the Tuna Commission to set a target catch for albacore as the first step towards a harvest strategy that would put the fishery back on an economically sustainable footing.
“It seems very clear that there’s no support from the commission as a whole to move towards this,” Mr Norris said.
China and Taiwan had concerns about the Pacific countries proposals.
“There is one more attempt at it (negotiations) but certainly we’re not confident and we’re very frustrated about this,” Norris said.
If talks fail Norris said Pacific countries will continue with their plans to set appropriate fishing limits for the waters of the Tokelau Arrangement Parties’ and work on a catch management arrangements.
The aim of this is for the Pacific countries to come together to exert more control on the fishery.
However, Norris said it is a problematic situation as a lot of catch and fishing effort for albacore takes place in the high seas where the Pacific does not have control.
The FFA is pleased with discussions on a timeframe for rebuilding bigeye tuna stocks. Bigeye is over fished and there is a need to set a target for when to have stocks back to an acceptable level.
Norris said the text on bigeye hasn’t been formally adopted yet but there seemed to be pretty good agreement around the table that the Tuna commission will implement a ten-year time frame to rebuild the stock.
At the moment bigeye is in the danger zone at 16 per cent of original stocks.
Establishing risk-levels for catch targets for all the commercial species is another Pacific priority.
“We have made some quite good progress, certainly the Commission has had a very healthy discussion around this concept,” Norris said
“There were very different proposals on the table ranging from FFA members proposing 5% risk to the United States proposing 20% risk.
“We (the working-group tasked to look at this issue) have agreed ..that we don’t need to specify individual risks at the moment. What that means is that anything above 20 per cent is unacceptable and then anything that is modelled that has a risk between zero and 20% the Commission will decide on, on a case by case basis whether that is acceptable or not,” Norris said.
“That seems to be shaping up towards what should be quite a useful agreement for the commission,” he said.
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