The commission made positive progress on conservation measures for seabirds and whale sharks.
But, conservationists had hoped for real action to curb the depletion of vital fish stocks.
Speaker:Dr Mike Batty, director, Fisheries Division, SPC, Secretariat of Pacific Communities
BATTY: There were some positive results for whale sharks and sea birds, but there was a certain amount of disappointment over the measure for tropical tunas. Some progress was made there, a new measure was put in place, but it hasn't really gone as far as I think most people would have hoped and on Albacore, there wasn't really very much progress at all. So it's much the same as usual at these meetings. There's a certain amount of goodwill, but it's difficult to get everybody to sign up to agreements which they see as disadvantaging their fishing industry.
COUTTS: Well, you in particular? Was this pressure coming from the distant water fishing nations?
BATTY: Well, I think it's certainly the case that the island countries were disappointed that distant water fishing nations weren't prepared to give more ground in terms of the catch in the long line fishery. This is a fishery that's sort of dominated by the distant water fishing nations and there were only very small reductions made in the planned catch of Big Eye Tuna by long lines. But I guess the distant water fishing nations also point to the fairly limited reductions in the purse seine fishery, which was the fishery which is of most interest to most of the Pacific Island countries.
COUTTS: Did the distant water fishing nations offer anything up in lieu of this agreement?
BATTY: Eh well, there's a plan to cut the long line catch of China by about 1,000 tonnes, but we have to remember that the Chinese long line catch of Big Eye has been increasing, so that's really just sort of putting it back where it should have been and two countries I think Korea and Taiwan offered a voluntary catch reduction of two percent, but these are fairly small reductions against what's really needed.
COUTTS: Instead of adopting basic measures to stop overfishing of Big Eyre Tuna, the Commission approved an amendment to the existing conservation and management measures that most believe will do little to effectively solve the problem?
BATTY: Yes, that's correct. There was some ;progress towards reducing the fishing on fish aggregation devices, so there's a kind of hybrid measure, where countries can choose whether or not they either accept an additional one months ban on fishing around FADs or they control the total number of sets on fish aggregation devices during the year. So it's going to be difficult really to monitor and implement that measure.
COUTTS: And there's also an accusation that the nearly approved measure is faught with loopholes and exceptions that allow overfishing to continue. Is that your interpretation as well?
BATTY: Well, this is often the case, individual countries don't agree to sign up to all the points of the measure. And I think this is one of the problems coming up with these measures after the event. We know there's already a problem with Big Eye Tuna and after we've identified this problem, we're discussing in a group, which can only really agree by consensus what's the best thing to do about it.
What the meeting did do, which I think was quite positive was to agree to move towards a new system of harvest control rules, where these sort of measures come in place automatically whenever the stocks are in trouble.
COUTTS: Well, what happened, because leading into it, the Partners to the Nauru Agreement were adamant that the fishing and the overfishing and the quotas for the distant water fishing nations were non-negotiable. So what happened?
BATTY: Well as I say, it's a meeting that really has to reach agreement by consensus and even if in the unlikely event things do go to a vote, there are two chambers, the Pacific Island countries, basically the coastal states are in one group. But the measure has to be approved by the majority of the distant water fishing nations as well. So it's difficult to reach agreement in that sort of system. And, of course, this is nothing new. We've known this and we've seen it in meetings over the eight or nine years.
There were some positive steps though. As you say, the sea bird and the whale shark measures I think are both good. And one thing which hasn't been discussed very much is there were considerable improvements to the way the vessel monitoring system operates. This is the satellite system that monitors where fishing boats are and the meeting agreed to a couple of improvements in that which will make it much more effective.
COUTTS: And what are those improvements?
BATTY: Well, one was to what 'Flick The Switch' proposal, it was called. In the past, vessels which have been registered with the Commission, but were not licensed in any Pacific Island country didn't have to keep their vessel monitoring system turned on when they passed through the Exclusive Economic Zone of a member country and this was obviously a weakness in terms of control of illegal fishing.
It's been agreed now that the vessel monitoring system will be on all the time. They flick the switch and keep it on and countries will be able to see licensed and unlicensed vessels when they come into their zones.
So I think that was quite a significant improvement. And the other one was in terms of monitoring the closure of fish aggregation devices. Most of the sets of fish aggregation devices are made in the early hours of the morning and the Commission agreed that during this closure period, the polling frequency, that's the frequency with which the transponder sends signals to the satellite will be increased, so that it should be possible to see whether or not those are actually making a set during that time.
COUTTS: Well, when will be the next opportunity to raise the issue again?
BATTY: Well, the Commission meets every year, but there's a sort of two-face process, the Scientific Committee, which is the one that we at SPC are most involved in, reviews the information on the stock status and makes recommendations. And then those recommendations will go to the next full Commission meeting in December.
Of course, in the meantime, there's still opportunities for groups, such as the PNA and the Forum Fisheries Agency countries to put in place measures on their account.
COUTTS: And do the distant water fishing nations recognise or agree that the overfishing does exist?
BATTY: Well they did and interestingly, there was a proposal to reduce overfishing of Big Eye, but to the level which would yield the maximum sustainable yield, and the distant water fishing nations in fact insisted that the target should be lower than that. We should be looking at a Big Eye stock which will yield the maximum possible.
So in principle, they're certainly behind the idea of stopping overfishing, but as you we've been discussing, the problem is in the practice.