The world catches too many tuna. Thanks to our high levels of fishing, some tuna species are under threat. Everyone involved in the fishing industry agrees that fishing effort needs to be reduced. But no one can decide who should bear the burden of cutting back their fishery. This week the Scientific Committee to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meets in Busan, Korea to try once more to reduce over-fishing.
The WCPFC is the globally mandated regional fisheries management organisation for these tuna fisheries. It is required to adopt conservation measures that ensure the long-term conservation of the region’s tuna fisheries. These measures are then legally binding on the WCPFC’s member States (including Australia).
The WCPFC faces a complex conservation and management challenge. Previous scientific assessments found that we need urgent action to address overfishing for some species of tuna. We must also develop precautionary limits for others. Otherwise, the world’s largest tuna fishery will decline in productivity and value, wasting a critically important resource and leading to key species becoming overfished. Such a management failure would first impact on the vulnerable bigeye tuna, then yellowfin and albacore, and lastly skipjack. Even the highly productive and resilient skipjack has sustainability limits.
The conservation challenge is complicated by the multi-gear, multi-species and trans-boundary characteristics of these tuna fisheries. Each species of tropical tuna is caught by each gear in a tightly inter-meshed manner that is difficult, if not impossible, to separate. It’s no one fishery’s problem; everyone has to work together.