Despite adoption of significant new management structure, no requirement for participation will complicate implementation

DA NANG, Vietnam—The Pew Charitable Trusts today praised the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) for adopting a modernized management plan for the Pacific skipjack tuna fishery, which makes up one-third of the world’s tuna catch. However, Pew also called the decision to make this science-based plan non-binding “disheartening.”

WCPFC, a regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) responsible for the governance of skipjack and other commercially significant tuna species, has committed to a management procedure, also known as a harvest strategy, for a stock that’s worth nearly $10 billion per year and is a key source of protein for people around the globe. This commitment could move the fishery from short-term, reactive decision-making to an approach that sets a long-term sustainable vision for the fishery and locks in proactive rules governing how much fish can be taken from the ocean in a given year.

With the move, WCPFC joins other major tuna RFMOs in shifting toward this modernized, science-based management. These RFMOs include the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, which adopted a management procedure for bigeye tuna in May, and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, which adopted a management procedure for the iconic Atlantic bluefin tuna last month.

However, implementation of the management procedure will not be binding.

Glen Holmes, an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ international fisheries project, issued the following statement:

“By adopting a management procedure for skipjack tuna, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission has demonstrated a commitment to a sustainable future for this important species.

“While it is a step in the right direction, it is disheartening that members have not made the agreement binding. This could render the management procedure ineffectual and allow protracted and potentially politicized negotiations that leave the long-term health of the species at risk to continue.

“To optimize management of this stock and ensure a stable supply for the market, members must revisit this decision and agree to realize the full benefit of the management procedure as soon as possible.

“The skipjack tuna population is at a healthy level, but it has become more depleted over time. The management procedure adopted today has been tested many times by scientists to account for uncertainty that could affect the skipjack fishery now and in the future. This testing has demonstrated that the management procedure will be effective in conserving the stock for the people and industries that rely on it.

“Although the WCPFC management procedure is not mandatory for countries to implement immediately, its adoption signals a significant turning point for its fisheries. A global shift is underway, as four of the five tuna RFMOs have moved some commercially significant stocks to this management method.

“Worldwide, governments have embraced an opportunity to cement future fisheries health and fundamentally change the trajectories for these important species. WCPFC has come a long way since 2014, when it first committed to develop management procedures. But it is essential for the commission to put its carefully tested plan in place, and to follow the leadership model set forth by other RFMOs.”

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