Without action, researchers with the global non-government organisation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, say the populations of bluefin and bigeye tuna could collapse beyond recovery.
Environmental advocates are also pushing for action to protect sharks and to limit the damage caused by fishing gear like aggregators.
Speaker:Amanda Nickson, Director, Pew Global Tuna Conservation
NICKSON: In the situation of Pacific Bluefin, I mean they're really in trouble at this stage. The population is at just 3.6 per cent of unfished levels and thus far, there has failed to be any agreement for the Western and Central Pacific region that would decrease the catch from current levels. A single Pacific Bluefin sold for more than 1.7 million last January and that was just days before scientists released the latest stock assessment indicating the population really had been decimated. So it's very clear that action is needed now and our view is without that clear and strong management action, the fisheries should be suspended until such time a strong science-based rebuilding plan is adopted.
EWART: So do you get the sense that the delegates meeting in Cairns are in the mood to implement the sort of management measures that you're calling for?
NICKSON: We very much hope that in the case of Pacific Bluefin that they are going to be prepared to come together and take very clear action on that and it's one of a number of issues they have on the agenda this week.
Another major area requiring action this week is that of Big Eye in the Pacific. Big Eye has been experiencing overfishing now for ten years according to the scientific advice and yet for ten years, we failed to see the member governments of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission come together and agree on conservation and management measures for that species.
So this week, we very much want to see governments come together and take the necessary action.
The scientific advice is clear, in terms of what needs to happen, so it really is up the countries involved to come together and sign some agreements.
EWART: And, when we talk about management. Obviously, management only works if it's effectively in force. So what do you therefore make of the European Union decision to black list a trio of countries, Cambodia, Belize and Guinea over illegal fishing, but perhaps more significantly for this part of the world, issue warnings to Fiji and Vanuatu?
NICKSON: Well, I think that all of those involved in managing global fisheries activity would agree that ensuring that we close the net, if you will, in that they close all loopholes and opportunities for illegal fishing is a fundamentally important thing and particularly for Pacific countries, where fishing for tuna is such an important contribution to national income, measures that actually help ensure that there is no further illegal fishing or reduces it as far as possible are critical to the ongoing management of these species.
On the table this week, for discussion are proposals for things like eye and IMO numbers for all fishing vessels, which is the unique vessel identifier that makes that much, much harder for vessels to act illegally and we're very hopeful that that will actually be supported by the Commission and go forward.
And there are also plans or proposals on the table to discuss around the issue of port state measures, which is basically the controls related to flag states and port states that receive fish in their countries. So making sure that there are actually appropriate important inspection teams and things like that are particularly important to helping address illegal fishing. It's certainly a critical part of the management equation.
EWART: Now, I mentioned also that the push for action to protect sharks and to limit damage caused by fishing gear, particularly like the aggregators and essentially that those two things go hand-in-hand, I think?
NICKSON: Well, certainly in the case of sharks, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission is often praised for being the most modern of the Tuna Regional Management Organisations in part, because it really does have a clear responsibility for sharks that perhaps some of the others don't have as clearly written into their Convention. And yet sharks in the Convention are almost completely unmanaged and every stock assessment to date shows that they are declining or experiencing overfishing. And so it is particularly important that action is taken for sharks and that involved as suite of things that are needed, from clear to just prohibition, the retention of some species that are really in trouble, through to addressing issues around the kind of fishing gears that are used.
In the case of fish aggregating devices that are used to target Skipjack Tuna, they need to be regulated for a range of reasons. At this stage, there are really no controls on how many you can put in the water, you're not required to remove them and they also are certainly a factor in the catch of juvenile Big Eye. And so we want to see very clear regulation that limits the number of FADS that are used in and how they are used in the region. And that will certainly for some shark species also have a benefit.
EWART: Do you get the sense as far as measures to control the various forms of tuna fishing are concerned, that we're reaching if we're not already at the point of no return?
NICKSON: I think that is happily not yet the case in the Pacific. There are certainly species of concern at the moment and Pacific Blue Fin, as we've touched on very clearly needs strong action immediately.
Big Eye Tuna also after ten years of scientific advice, there needs to be clear action.
For Skipjack Tuna, that population of stock is actually in reasonably good condition at the moment and the issue there is to ensure that you put management in place now and make sure that it does not actually reach the same situation as those other species.
So by and large, the Western and Central Pacific has the opportunity to really make some very important and unique decisions globally about how tuna is managed.
More than 50 per cent of the world's tuna comes out of this region. This Convention area covers about 20 per cent of the earth's surface and the countries involved really have a unique opportunity. Our biggest hope that this week they will come together and really work on a compromise and I think that there are a group of countries that have a particularly important role to play in that when we start to look at Big Eye conservation and management as they are the group of countries that, that catch most of the Big Eye, and that the United States, China, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Chinese Taipei. And it's certainly our hope that those countries will step in and play a particularly special role in helping ensure that we see compromise.
But overall, this week, we just really want to see these countries come together and agree some strong management measures.