The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission Scientific Committee has highlighted the failure of tuna fishing nations to protect one of the world's most important fisheries, bigeye tuna.
At the Committee's meeting the Secretariat of the Pacific Community has tabled data showing that bigeye tuna stocks have been reduced to 16% of the original population.
Greenpeace New Zealand Oceans Campaigner Karli Thomas says immediate action needs to be taken to outlaw the use of FADS by giant purse seine fishing vessels from the European Union, Asia and the United States.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Karli Thomas, Greenpeace New Zealand Oceans Campaigner
THOMAS: The main worrying news has come in the form of the assessment that bigeye tuna is down to only 16% of its original population size and we're now talking about a species which is getting further into the realms of bluefin tunas, which are kind of the poster childs overfishing of tuna fish is worldwide, so it's a really a serious situation that the Pacific tropical stocks are now starting to get to comparable levels.
COUTTS: But we have known this for awhile, we shouldn't be to shocked that the species have been threatened from over-fishing?
THOMAS: We've certainly known this for awhile, but Secretariat for the Pacific Community has produced a much better quality of stock assessment this year, they've been able to get better data into there and the warning signs are a lot louder and clearer than they have been in previous years. But we've certainly been calling for a number of years now for a huge reduction in the fishing pressure on bigeye tuna.
COUTTS: Can you just elaborate on what those figures are now and just give us an idea of how dire or not it is. Where are we in the scheme of things, meaning are we beyond redemption now?
THOMAS: We're not beyond redemption, but the data needs to be looked at really clearly to find out what needs to be done to protect the stocks and one of the biggest stand out features is the impact that fish aggregating devices are having on bigeye tuna. The purse seine fleet which uses this method is now catching more bigeye than the long line fleet, which is actually going out to try and catch bigeye tuna, so more bigeye has been taken as bycatch catch than intended catch and that's a huge worry, but also points us in the right direction for where action needs to be taken to save the species.
COUTTS: And what is that, what are you outlying or what are your proposals?
THOMAS: We're calling for an urgent ban on the use of fish aggregating devices within the per seine fleet in order to save the stocks from a complete crash. So at the moment, these are banned four months of the year and it's very, very clear in the data that's coming forward to the Commission that during those four months, the guide by catch in the purse seine fishery is very low, but then it skyrockets after the fish aggregation device ban is lifted. And there's simply no excuse to use such an indiscriminate form of fishing any month of the year.
COUTTS: It's the distant water fishing nations that are using these giant purse seine vessels, the European Union, Asia, United States, I'm guessing Japan and a number of others. Why are the licences still being given out?
THOMAS: I'm not really sure that I can answer that one to be honest.
COUTTS: A record number of purse seine vessels from EU, Asia and the US, knowing what we know now, why are they continuing this practice, even if they might have a license to do it, because there's been controversy and debate over the FAD for sometime?
THOMAS: I guess one of the issues there is that Western and Central Pacific Tuna Commission operates by consensus, so there are huge challenges in getting conservation measures that are urgently needed through the Commission and it's as much a political process as it is one of following the scientists recommendations. So what we'd love to see here is very, very clear recommendations from the Scientific Committee that makes, really put the ball in the court of parties to the Commission to take the decisions that the science is urging them to take.
COUTTS: And, we owe, the figures that we've got now that have just been released from the Secretariat. Are we only talking about fishing in the Pacific?
THOMAS: There's also papers being presented here about the Eastern Pacific as well Western and Central Pacific. But the Scientific Committee is really focused on the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, which is where almost 60 percent of the world's tuna catch comes from, so it's only one the world's tuna fisheries, but it is the biggest and the most important.
COUTTS: All right. You said it comes down to consensus, so why aren't we get consensus on this, what are the nay sayers say, what are the opponents to do anything about it, what are their arguments?
THOMAS: There are many countries that have got kind of split interests in the fishery and one of the big factors here is their contribution of long line vessels versus purse seine vessels into the decline in bigeye. But what's come through clearly in the data this year has been that purse seine and FAD use in the purse seine fishery is actually starting to be the biggest impacts in the targeted fishery for bigeye itself. So that really puts the onus on the heavy FAD users and on the purse seine industry generally to clean up their act and stop squandering a fish, which is incredibly valuable as a resource.
COUTTS: The question still is no matter what Committee, whether it's science or technical, it comes down to dollars versus sustainability?
THOMAS: We're urging the Scientific Committee to put forward really clear recommendations to the Commission, which can't be ignore, because the longer that this impact carries on to the bigeye stock, the greater risk that we're going to lose the fishery altogether and noone is going to win from that situation.