The Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission members in Vietnam adopted a management procedure for Pacific skipjack tuna last week that would allow for better stock management under a science-based management plan.
In a surprising decision, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission agreed to a proposal by the USA and Canada to outlaw shark lines and wire leaders, both of which are used by industrial-scale fishers targeting sharks and leading to major declines in Pacific shark populations.
Shark lines are used by longline fishing vessels targeting sharks and wire leaders, increases the likelihood of retaining a shark once it’s caught on the line. The animals’ sharp teeth can easily bite through a nylon or monofilament leader (a short segment of line attaching a hook to the main fishing line) as opposed to a leader reinforced with wire.
While the two devices were already outlawed in some countries’ territorial waters, this decision marks the first time that one of the main bodies overseeing tuna fishing in international waters has completely banned their use. The decision could lead the way for other international regional fisheries management organizations,(RFMOs, to follow suit.
This gear ban will help increasing the survival of critically endangered oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus) and vulnerable silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) by avoiding bycatch and landing.
Also in the proposal is a requirement that sharks like oceanic whitetips, which cannot be retained under any circumstances, be freed with as little fishing gear as possible remaining attached to their bodies.
This harvest strategy, designed to balance conservation and commercial interests, would ensure that fishing opportunities are decided based upon the best available science. WCPFC joins other major tuna RFMOs in shifting toward a modernized, science-based management. However, we join Pew Trust in disappointment over the decision to make this science-based plan non-binding.
Observer coverage is to increase onboard tuna fishing vessels allowing for better reporting and less IUU fishing (including shark finning). Additionally, seasonal closures for Fish Aggregation Devices (FADS) were implemented to protect juvenile yellowtail and blue fin tuna.
Of the 5.2 million metric tons of tuna are caught in commercial fisheries around the world every year, and more than half comes from skipjack tuna making management is critical. However, millions of sharks are caught as bykill in this fishery, including critically endangered Oceanic Whitetip sharks.
The eight Pacific countries that make up the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) have economic sovereignty over a stretch of ocean that has historically supported 60% of tuna landings in the WCPFC and 25-30% globally. Most of this, about 1.8 million metric tons per year, comes from skipjack tuna According to the industry site Atuna, one third of tuna goes through the FFA, a consortium of Pacific nations who have expressed reluctance to adopt the a management plan.
We applaud the decision by the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission helping regulate harmful gear that kills millions of sharks directly or as bycatch. The decision by the WCPFC to ban wire leaders and shark lines may just be the move that saves critically endangered oceanic whitetip sharks from extinction.David McGuire, Director Shark Stewards
Wire leaders are threatening many species of sharks, but especially oceanic whitetip sharks. Once considered the most abundant vertebrate in the ocean over 2 meters, this shark has been fished down 95% in the Pacific, according to a report by the WCPFC in 2022.
We thank the Commission members and newly appointed Executive Director Rhea Moss-Christian