PACIFIC nations have slammed major fishing nations using loopholes to duck out of properly reporting their fishing catches in Pacific waters.
Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) members at the 10th Scientific Committee meeting of the WCPFC say the missing data is critical to help prevent over-fishing in Pacific waters.
The meeting in the Marshall Islands, ended last week.
Tiga Galo – Tokelau chair of the FFA Science Working Group – notes one of the obligations that all members signed up to when they joined the WCPFC was to provide full catch and effort data on the operations of their fishing vessels in the Convention Area.
“Yet, here we are 10 years down the track, and there are still four Asian Co-operating Country Members that are hiding behind the temporary deferment that allowed them time to amend their domestic regulations – laws that might have technically prevented them from supplying this operational data at the time of agreement.”
The other reason for frustration from FFA members and many other countries at the WCPFC Scientific Committee meeting is scale.
They say if Pacific developing states, some of them classed by the UN as least developed countries, can meet their reporting obligations to the WCPFC – major countries fishing the region should face more scrutiny on why they cannot do the same.
“Quite frankly, we think these other countries are just making excuses,” says Galo.
She challenged China, Chinese-Taipei, Japan and Republic of Korea to follow the USA lead and bring their domestic laws up to date so they can comply with their data obligations to the WCPFC.
Galo says FFA members have long debated the problem of monitoring high seas fishing activity on the borders of Pacific EEZs.
“Pacific Island countries supply operational data to the commission on all the tuna fishing vessels that they licence to fish in their national waters, whether foreign or local.
“But Pacific Island nations cannot collect data for Asian distant water vessels operating on the high seas if they are not licensed to fish in Pacific Island EEZs.
“This is a particular problem with long-liners. Many long-liners only fish on the high seas and are not responsible to any FFA members – only to the Commission and their flag state.”
The resulting data gaps affect the accuracy and reliability of fisheries stock assessments and increases the risk of exceeding fisheries conservation and management limits as well as removing the ability to hold vessels and their flag States to account for their actions.
For WCPFC members who have come out strongly this week, and will spend the final hours of the meeting debating the outcome texts, the challenge of addressing the catch data gap is far from resolved.
“We will be taking steps to tighten things up in December,” Galo says, referring to the 11th regular session of the WCPFC timed for 1-5 December in Apia, Samoa.