SPRFMO Outcomes: Jack Mackerel catch risks for wider. Ecosystem issues parked.
"Jack Mackerel Fish stocks and their associated ecosystems are still at risk according to environmentalist, at the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management meeting which finishes in Auckland today', says Mauricio Galvez, Regional Fishery Officer at WWF Chile.
“Bottom fishing impacts and aspects of the protection of the marine environment of the South Pacific were parked for later consideration. The meeting failed to establish adequate catch limits to enable Jack mackerel fish stock to recover to sustainable levels."
" Some progress was made establishing the building blocks of the Organisation. The permissive catch limits on the catch and fishing effort of the once enormous stock of Jack mackerel in the South Eastern Pacific disappointed those with environmental concerns, says Galvez
“The EU proposed a catch limit of 300,000 tonnes. Under pressure from fishing interests, the total catch of Jack Mackerel allowed was set at 438,000 tonnes, a level condemned as far too high by those looking for a good chance of rebuilding the stock to the levels agreed by the scientific community, said Mauricio Galvez, of WWF Chile who attended the meeting. They allowed a total of 360,000 tonnes to be taken in the high seas and in the Chilean EEZ, with the rest to be taken in the Peruvian and Ecuadorian Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs)”.
The week-long meeting was dominated by recriminations for previous overfishing and by wrangling on what the catch limits should be for Jack mackerel and how the total catch limit should be shared between countries, said Galvez. “In the past, countries have allowed too much fishing, and have been unable to prevent vessels to overshoot even these high limits”.
“On the positive side, the newly established organisation managed to put in place the basics for its operation, such as rules of procedure, a much haggled over budget and an agreement for the Secretariat to be based in New Zealand," says Cath Wallace of the Environment and Conservation Organisations of NZ.
“The Russians refused to agree to the budget and wanted to leverage a higher level of catch allocation. They claimed higher catches in the past but the meeting regarded these claims sceptically because the Russians failed to provide evidence of the claimed fishing.
“On substantive issues, they agreed to a list of vessels that could be authorised to fish in the huge South Pacific area, and to measures to control illegal vessels and fishing. They also put in place rules for data and reporting and other fundamental requirements, including a set of priorities for the Scientific Committee’s work,” said Wallace.
Mauricio Galvez said “ one of the most relevant tasks that the Commission gave the Scientific Committee is the analysis and recommendation of biologically-based fisheries management target reference points designed to provide the stock that would be most biologically productive (the Maximum Sustainable Yield). This makes the objective for the management of the Jack mackerel clear and, in the future, the Scientific Committee and Parties will have a clear yardstick to evaluate how well the stock is faring.”
“The Jack Mackerel fishery was once a huge stock but in the run up to the formation of SPRFMO and more permanent fishing rules and allocations, vessels from around the world have hammered the stocks. Some countries allowed dozens of foreign vessels to sign up under their flags in the hope of setting up claims to future allocations of fishing rights. Some country “representatives” in the meetings have essentially also been “flags of convenience” with fishing interests thinly disguised as national representatives of small states, and other fishing industry representatives heavily lobbying diplomats and sitting at their elbows,” said Wallace.
“The question of new rules for the deep water bottom fishing was parked, with New Zealand promising to develop draft rules during 2013 for later consideration. New Zealand vessels do more than 90% of the bottom trawling in the South Pacific. There are interim measures for protection of Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems, but these have yet to be converted into more permanent rules” said Wallace.
Karen Baird of Birdlife International noted that ways to reduce bycatch of seabirds, marine mammals and turtles will be considered at the first meeting of the Scientific Committee when it meets later this year. Requirements to report these catches have been incorporated into data collection rules. “It is imperative that this information is collected and then reported to enable scientists to adequately analyse risks to seabirds in these fisheries.”, said Baird. “No data on bycatch has so far been provided, and it is essential, not only for good management , but also for truly incorporating the Ecosystem Approach to fisheries management”.
Environmental organistions urged governments to reduce the catch limits substantially in 2014, and to move discussions on to the controls of impacts of fishing on the ecosystem and affected species.For background on the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation and this meeting see www.southpacificrfmo.org.