Tuna stocks are managed to keep numbers healthy 

Three organisations share responsibility for how tuna populations are managed for the region as a whole. The sub-regional group of countries that are members of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement also have rules that govern the management of tuna stocks in their waters. 

FFA helps small island nations manage tuna stocks 

The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) takes an ecosystem approach to managing fisheries. The agency helps its members to apply this approach to managing tuna fisheries under their power. This is important support for the 14 small island developing states (SIDS) of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. 

An ecosystem approach puts management into the context of the whole food web and people’s cultural, social and economic needs. Fisheries managers consider the health and abundance of tuna and other desired fish. They may consider factors that affect these. For example, a declining ecosystem, ad hoc management policies, and greater demand for tuna can make it harder for tuna to thrive. 

WCPFC sets management rules for the region

Management of the tuna fisheries is also central to the work of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). Its work covers the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of countries in the region, as well as the high seas of the region. 

WCPFC is the central decisionmaking body for managing tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). It was established in mid-2004 by the Convention for the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. 

The WCPFC: 

  • uses scientific advice to assess current stocks of tuna and other commercial fisheries  
  • sets binding rules, called conservation and management measures (CMMs), to help maintain sustainable populations of all commercial fish species  
  • receives reports on the catch and harvest of species from members, participating territories and cooperative non-members 
  • revises and updates CMMs based on reports and new scientific information. 

The convention requires the WCPFC to consider the whole ecosystem when it sets rules. The commission needs to take into account the impact of fishing on: 

  • target stocks, that is tuna and other fish that fishing nations seek to catch 
  • non-target species, that is juvenile tuna that are too young to reproduce, and other fish and sea animals 
  • species that are often found with or depend on tuna and other target stocks 
  • other species that that live in the same environment as the target stocks 
  • the variety of species (biodiversity) in the ocean, and their dependence on each other to thrive. 

SPC monitors fish numbers and health

The Pacific Community (SPC) helps to manage the Pacific’s tuna and other species by monitoring and assessing fish stocks. It does this through its Oceanic Fisheries Programme.  

SPC manages the world’s largest international fisheries database. Participating countries provide standardised data on fishing operations. The first records were received in 1950, and the database now holds about 2.7 million records. They have come from more than 9,000 different fishing vessels. 

PNA has extra rules that cover the world’s largest purse-seine tuna fishery

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) covers the world’s largest sustainable fishery of tuna caught by purse-seine vessels. Eight countries have signed the agreement. Between them, they provide about 50% of the global supply of skipjack tuna, the most commonly canned tuna.

The PNA has two main practices for conserving its fish stocks:

PNA has several agreements that help members manage tuna stocks in their waters.

Palau Arrangement for the operation of the Purse Seine Vessel Day Scheme sets the rules for fishing in the EEZs of the PNA states. All purse-seine vessels wanting to fish in the EEZs must be licensed under the scheme. A Longline Vessel Day Scheme operates in the same way.

The PNA members meet every year to set limits on the total amount of fishing allowed. This is calculated as a total allowable effort (TAE) allowed by all vessels in a year. This is the number of fishing days allowed. The TAE is usually set a couple of years ahead.The parties review the measures designed to maintain and conserve fish stocks. They look at the current status of fish stocks. They also consider other factors that help fish maintain healthy numbers, for example the measure to reduce fish deaths, especially of young bigeye and yellowfin tuna.

They also take into account other scientific, economic and management information.

Man on fishing vessel on ocean standing on deck and throwing bait into the water. Photo Francisco Blaha.
A baiter at work throwing into the water … effective management of tuna stocks is vital for the economic development of SIDS and to keep tuna numbers at healthy levels. Photo: Francisco Blaha.