Tuna conservation tops agenda of WCPFC meeting

PASAY CITY (MindaNews/ 2 December)— The 9th Regular Session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) opened Sunday at the Philippine International Convention Center here with the search for conservation measures topping the agenda.

The five-day meeting will also review the ongoing ban on tuna fishing in four pockets of high seas in the Western Pacific region and possible replacement measures.

 In 2008, the 25-country fisheries commission imposed a limited ban on tuna fishing beginning that year after a steady decline on tuna catch record raised alarms in the highly lucrative and competitive world tuna fishing industry.

The Philippines is a signatory to the commission.

In 2009, the WCPFC expanded its conservation measure that included a two-year closure of four pockets of high seas in the Pacific Ocean that lie in the path of the highly-migratory tuna and tuna-like species.

The ban took effect the following year and ended last January.

Earlier this year, the WCPFCgranted Philippine tuna fishing vessels exclusive privilege to resume fishing in Pocket 1 after a strong lobby from the Philippine delegation led by Mindanao Development Authority chair LuwalhatiAntonino and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Asis Perez at the commission’s meeting in Guam.

Pocket 1 is an area of about 590,000 square kilometers north of Papua New Guinea and east of southern Indonesia.

The exemption, however, is limited to 36 Filipino fishing fleets with gross tonnage not exceeding 250 tons of traditional fresh/ice chilled catching vessels.

But as of this writing, only 8 of 36 fishing vesselsthat were allowed to fish in the area have set sail to the area.

A source from the Philippine tuna industry based in General Santos City said the rest are eagerly awaiting the result of this week’s WCPFC meeting and see if the Philippines will keep its exempt status.

The Philippines is one of the world’s leading tuna catchers as well as producers of canned and processed tuna products.

General Santos City, the country’s acknowledged tuna capital, is home to six of the Philippine’s tuna canning plant.

The tuna industry in General Santos City is generating at least US$250 million in export revenues, making it the single biggest source of employment and livelihood in General Santos.

Industry figures showed that at least 120,000 residents are directly and indirectly dependent on the tuna industry.

The WCPFC meeting is expected to draw delegates from the commission’s member countries that also include Australia, China, Canada, Cook Islands, European Union, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Japan, Kiribati, Republic of Korea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Chinese Taipei, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States of America, Vanuatu.

Aside from its member countries, the WCPFC also includes participating territories from American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, French Polynesia, Guam, New Caledonia, Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna.

The commission also has Belize, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ecuador, El Salvador, Indonesia, Mexico, Senegal, St Kitts and Nevis, Panama, Thailand, and Vietnam as cooperating non-member countries. (Edwin G. Espejo/MindaNews contributor)