Port Moresby, PNG – December 10, 2019: 2.45pm (WWF): Bycatch in tuna longline fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) is one of the greatest threats to seabirds, particularly albatrosses and petrels.
Despite the implementation of conservation measures for seabirds since 2006, it is estimated that between 13,000 to 19,000 seabirds continue to be caught annually.
The seabird Conservation and Management Measure that was adopted in 2018 (CMM 2018-03) was further supported with the Western and Central Pacific Commission (WCPFC) adopting supplementary non-binding information for safe handling and release guidelines for seabirds.
The proposal tabled by New Zealand received unanimous support from member and non-member states present at the 16th Regular Session of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC16).
WWF’s head of delegation to the WCPFC16, Bubba Cook says that the adoption of the guidelines on Hook Removal from Seabirds, developed by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), would support bycatch mitigation efforts of seabirds, especially on the southern end of the WCPO region across all WCPFC longline and other hook fisheries.
“While we are pleased that the WCPFC has taken the important step to implement these voluntary guidelines, we believe that they should be mandatory and subject to clear monitoring and compliance review.”
CMM 2018-03 ensures that seabirds captured alive are released alive and in as good a condition as possible and that, wherever possible, hooks are removed without jeopardizing the life of the seabird concerned.
Head of the New Zealand delegation to WCPFC16, Ms. Heather Ward, highlighted the protection of seabirds is a priority for NZ given the diversity of seabirds, particularly albatross and petrel species, around New Zealand, in the areas south of 25°S.
“New Zealand is concerned that despite the implementation of a conservation and management measure since 2006 to reduce seabird bycatch, project 68 estimates bycatch levels as high as 13,000 to 19,000 birds per year, not including cryptic mortality.”
Cryptic mortality refers to, in this case birds, which die without being observed after having been caught in a fishing line (longline) and not released properly. (https://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/fish/snook/cryptic-mortality/)
“The WCPFC’s Scientific Committee noted that longline fisheries north of 20°N accounted for approximately two-thirds of the total seabird mortalities while longline fisheries south of 30°S accounted for approximately one-quarter of seabird mortalities,” said Ms. Ward.
The 15th Regular Session of the Scientific Committee (SC15) noted that some seabirds are captured and released alive, with higher chances of survival when safe handling procedures are implemented.
SC15 further recommended that together with the implementation of effective seabird bycatch mitigation measures, safe handling and release of seabirds will help reduce the impact of pelagic longline and other hook fisheries bycatch on vulnerable or endangered seabirds.
ACAP Executive Secretary, Dr. Christine Bogle, highlighted that ACAP is very pleased with the adoption of the proposal put forward by the New Zealand delegation for non-binding guidelines on the safe release of seabirds caught alive on hooks as these guidelines are based on ACAP advice and will help ensure that birds caught alive on hooks will have a better chance of survival.
“Now that the measure is in place, the challenge will be to ensure compliance. ACAP has presented an observer statement presented here by ACAP which you can find in WCPFC16 – 2019 – OP08. Arguably the single most important action to reduce bycatch is to increase compliance in the proper use of existing seabird bycatch regulations, such as this CMM 2018/03,” added Dr. Bogle.
Ms. Ward added that the guidelines are tailored for fishing vessel crews and are freely available in multiple languages. The guidelines and the materials required to safely release seabirds are simple (i.e. towels/blanket, pliers, net, box/bin and gloves).
WWF Pacific’s Developing Sustainable and Responsible Tuna Longline Fisheries in Fiji Project Manager, Seremaia Tuqiri, added that WWF Pacific would continue to work with domestic industries to assist in the uptake of the guidelines.
The WCPFC16 conference is from December 5th – 11th in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.