Port Moresby- At the final day of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) on Wednesday, the tuna commission took a major step in helping “threatened” manta and mobula rays when it adopted a resolution that requires fishermen immediately release any mantas caught accidentally as “bycatch.”

Glen Holmes, officer, international fisheries of The Pew Charitable Trusts said the increased protection is one of the positive outcomes of the WCPFC meeting held in Port Moresby.

Holmes said the action is considered a “big win” from the commission meeting.

“WCPFC agreed to increase protections for threatened manta and mobula rays by banning purse seine and longline vessels from keeping any caught in their nets and hooks. This is a positive step and helps remove the incentive for fishers to capture and keep these imperiled species,” Holmes said.

Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) members were the proponents of the proposal for a new measure to prevent targeted fishing and retention, and promote the safe release of mobulid rays, which includes such as manta rays, when they are caught in WCPFC convention area fisheries.

Dr. Manu Tupou-Roosen said that the protection of rays is one of the“ excellent” outcomes from the WCPFC meeting.

PEW said six species of manta and mobula rays are vulnerable to overfishing.  The species in peril are listed to Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and Appendix I and II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

To many island nations, like Palau and FSM, manta ray watching is a big tourism draw. There is also a global plea to protect rays as they not only get tangled in nets or fishing lines but also targeted for their meat and gills plates.

Under the measure, purse seiners are required to release rays while they are still free-swimming, larger rays that are too large to be lifted safely by hand are brailed out of the net and released using a purpose-built large-mesh cargo net or canvas sling or a similar device.

Purse seiners and longliners are also banned from dragging, carrying, lifting or pulling a ray by its “cephalic lobes” or tail, or by inserting hooks or hands.

Bubba Cook, WWF’s head of delegation to the WCPFC16 said they are happy to see that the manta rays measure move forward. (Bernadette H. Carreon)