APIA, Samoa (AFP) – The effectiveness of the fishing watchdog in lucrative Pacific island waters was under scrutiny Saturday after talks aimed at protecting the region’s valuable tuna stocks ended in stalemate.
Small Pacific island states and the powerful countries which fish in their waters were unable to agree on tuna conservation measures during a week of heavy talks at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) annual conference.
A group of island nations including Samoa and Palau want the commission, which polices fishing in the region, to establish strict catch limits for bigeye tuna, one of the most sought after species for sushi restaurants in Asia, America and Europe.
However, despite reports indicating bigeye stocks were down to 16 per cent of their historic high, conservation measures appear to have been blocked by the so-called “distant water nations” from as far afield as Europe, China, the United States, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
The final session of the conference, when countries present their closing statements, was held behind closed doors, but some delegates indicated to reporters that control measures proposed by the Pacific states were rejected.
“I strongly hope next year we can reach an agreement, otherwise, the reputation of this organisation will be in danger,” China’s head delegate Liu Xiaobing said.
Ahead of the final session, Wez Norris, deputy director-general of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, an umbrella group representing the island states, described the talks as “frustrating” with opposition to almost all conservation proposals.
The World Wildlife Fund’s Pacific tuna programme manager, Bubba Cook, said there did not appear to be a willingness to compromise.
“In this case everybody loses. The Pacific islands lose, the distant water fishing nations lose, and most importantly the resource loses,” Cook said.
Efforts to protect other tuna species including yellowfin and albacore also failed to make headway.
The Commission did adopt measures to reduce the by-catch of shark in longline tuna fisheries but failed to agree on an outright ban on shark finning.
“I’m very disappointed. Everything we were hoping for just didn’t get anywhere. Even measures that did get past came up short,” said Lagi Toribau of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.
“I’m slowly losing faith. I don’t think that this is the time where the Commission can deliver.”