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Vital measures to safeguard the long-term health of major tuna stocks were agreed, pending publication, at the annual meeting of the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in Da Nang, Vietnam last week. 

Following crucial negotiations, the 26 member states of the WCPFC agreed to implement a number of management measures relating to harvest strategies for tuna stocks in the Western Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). 

Harvest strategies play a vital role in sustainable fisheries management, creating a ‘safety net’ to allow tuna stocks to recover should they ever fall below current sustainable levels. These measures are key to ensuring the long-term health of tuna stocks.  

Most significantly, the Commission agreed to adopt a harvest strategy for skipjack – the most abundant tuna species in the WCPO. The Commission also reaffirmed its commitment to put in place harvest strategies for all tuna species in the WCPO, including bigeye and yellowfin tuna, and albacore in the South Pacific, before stocks fall below sustainable levels. 

This follows a landmark agreement by the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) less than two weeks ago to adopt a harvest strategy for Atlantic bluefin tuna.

Dr Rohan Currey, Chief Science & Standards Officer at the MSC who was in Vietnam for the commission meeting said: “The measures agreed by the WCPFC are a significant step forward in safeguarding some of the world’s most abundant and economically important tuna stocks. There is, however, still much work to be done to ensure effective harvest strategies are in place for all tuna stocks in the region. I encourage everyone involved to capitalise on the momentum created in Da Nang to drive forward their plans to deliver further safeguards for tuna fisheries in the region over the coming years.”

Multilateral agreements aren't easy, especially when they cover some of the largest and most complex fisheries on the planet, so this is a significant accomplishment for all involved. With this new commitment from the WCPFC following just after the agreement on a harvest strategy for Atlantic bluefin, we may be seeing an encouraging ‘sea change’ in multilateral fisheries management.”

The need for progress on harvest strategies, which are required for tuna fisheries to have the opportunity to maintain MSC certification, was a key driving factor in the negotiations. Major companies from across the supply chain joined forces to urge delegates to reach an agreement, with 118 signing a joint letter coordinated by the NGO Tuna Forum, reiterating the importance of harvest strategies. 

The demand for MSC certified tuna is growing, with the volume of products sold with the MSC ecolabel increasing from 48,000 to almost 139,000 tonnes in the past five years. Fisheries in the WCPO have led the rise in volume of MSC certified tuna products sold, accounting for 85% of all certified tuna. 

However, inaction by the WCPFC in previous negotiations was undermining the basis of MSC certification for all tuna fisheries in the region. These fisheries were certified to the MSC Fisheries Standard on the basis that the WCPFC was working towards implementing harvest strategies – a rationale undermined by the Commission’s lack of progress. 

Once finalised and published, the agreements reached at the annual meeting will be reviewed in detail by the independent conformity assessment bodies (CABs) - responsible for assessing the fisheries to the MSC Standard - to determine how they impact the ongoing MSC certification of tuna fisheries. 

Tuna fisheries which continue to meet the minimum requirements of MSC certification will have the opportunity for early application of the new MSC Fisheries Standard (version 3.0). This gives them an additional five years to meet the new requirements for more comprehensive, ‘state-of-the-art’ harvest strategies, ensuring that vital tuna stocks do not become overfished.