WesPac scientists endorse US proposal to nearly double bigeye quota
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — In a press release issued last week, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council reported that its Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) discussed issues related to bigeye tuna management at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting.
The SSC endorsed the U.S. proposal to increase its bigeye tuna catch from 3,554 metric tons to 6,554 metric tons for the U.S. longline fishery, and to increase the observer coverage minimum for WCPFC longline fisheries from 5% to 10%. WCPFC analyses demonstrate the Pacific bigeye tuna stock may sustainably withstand a modest increase in longline catch for the Hawai‘i-based fishery, noting it operates in a region of low levels of biomass depletion.
The SSC also endorsed the continuation of fishing agreements between Hawai‘i-based U.S. vessels and participating U.S. Pacific Island Territories, and the agreements’ formal recognition within the WCPFC. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the U.S. bigeye tuna quota can be exchanged between the Territories and Hawai‘i according to procedures established under the Council’s Pelagic Fishery Ecosystem Plan.
The SSC heard the Hawai‘i and American Samoa longline catch rates were low during the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic period. In Hawai‘i, bigeye tuna catch rates were well below historical levels, likely due to atypical La Nina oceanographic conditions. The SSC noted an ongoing study that found preliminary 2021 revenue was 84% higher than 2020 (March to August timeframe) largely due to significant price increases from supply limitations, and 35% higher than a 2015-2019 baseline.
Although the South Pacific albacore tuna stock is not overfished and not experiencing overfishing, the SSC was concerned that the American Samoa catch rates were the lowest on record—well below the rate needed to make the fishery viable. The SSC noted that a continuous downward trend of the stock coincides with declines of numerous Pacific Island fisheries and uncertainty in reported fishing capacity and catches of South Pacific albacore.
The WCPFC is responsible for the waters around Hawai‘i and the U.S. Pacific Islands. The member countries, including the United States, aim to reach consensus annually on conservation and management measures such as catch limits for tropical tunas and billfish, and spatial fishing effort limits.
Regarding area-based management, the SSC endorsed a work plan from a committee subgroup and expects to have an outline for a policy-focused paper in March 2022 about domestic and international issues impacting Western Pacific Region fisheries. The SSC working group aims to provide advice on using area-based management to achieve goals under President Biden’s 30x30 land and ocean conservation initiative and similar negotiations on the high seas, and address the changing international fisheries landscape.
The SSC also commended development of the Hawai‘i Community Tagging Program, a collaborative research project on sharks between the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center and small-boat fishermen. The program aims to quantify shark-fisher interactions, depredation and mortality rates for silky sharks and Endangered Species Act-listed oceanic whitetip sharks, among others. Scientists educate fishers on shark population status and species identification, while identifying and testing bycatch and depredation mitigation strategies.
The program plans to integrate tag, fishing interaction and environmental data to create species distribution models that can be created under various future climate change scenarios. SSC suggested the Science Center extend its efforts to reduce depredation in Hawai‘i bottomfish fisheries as well as the U.S. Pacific Island territories, which have both noted high depredation rates.
Recommendations made by the SSC will be considered by the Council when it meets virtually this week, Dec. 7-9, 2021, with host sites at Tedi of Samoa Building, Suite 208B, Fagatogo Village, American Samoa; BRI Building, Suite 205, Kopa Di Oru St., Garapan, Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI); and Cliff Pointe, 304 W. O’Brien Dr., Hagatña, Guam.
For more information on the agenda, meeting documents and web conference connection, go to www.wpcouncil.org/event/189th-council-virtual-meeting. Host sites are subject to local and federal safety and health guidelines regarding COVID-19; check the Council website for updates.
(Source: Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council)