WCPFC Boosts Bigeye Tuna Catch Limit to 6,554 Metric Tons

Image: Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) has increased the Hawaii longline fishery catch limit of bigeye tuna to 6,554 metric tons, a jump of 3,000 metric tons.

The Dec. 11 announcement came from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council following the conclusion of the 20th regular session of the commission at Rarotonga, Cook Islands. The revised tropical tuna conservation and management measure (CMM) is expected to be in effect from 2024 through 2026.

The CMM increases catch limits for five nations with fishing limits for longline-caught bigeye contingent on reports from human observers and/or electronic monitoring.

The measure, which covers nearly 60% of the global tuna supply, establishes international rules for bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tuna harvests.

The fishery catch limit increase follows nearly two years of collaboration between the Western Pacific Regional council and the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, which co-convened three workshops on longline fishery management.

The WCPFC noted, however, that the increase for the Hawaii longline fishery came at a cost. The U.S. failed to retain a provision in the tropical tuna CMM allowing for transfer of portions of catch to the Hawaii longline fishery in exchange for funds under specified fishing agreements.

The loss of the provision eliminated the agreements and funding that had been a cornerstone of the territories’ fishery development initiatives.

Council Chair Taulapapa William Sword said the council was vehemently opposed to giving away that provision without consultation with the territories.

“We were not consulted before, or during, the meeting and were caught by surprise,” Taulapapa said. “We realize it wasn’t even necessary to sacrifice this provision to increase the bigeye longline quota.”

The agreement also included reduced fish aggregating device (FAD) closure periods for purse seine vessel. They drop from three months in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Pacific nations to 1.5 months, and to 2.5 months on the high seas.

The purpose of these closures is to decrease juvenile mortality for bigeye tuna, which are incidentally caught in the purse seine sets targeting skipjack tuna—the primary species used in canned tuna.