High-level tuna meet gets under way in Manila

Posted at 12/03/12 9:47 AM

MANILA - The annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission opened here Sunday, where fishing experts are expected to discuss ways to reverse the declining tuna catch due to overfishing.

"Much needs to be done," Philippine Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said, stressing the need to "unify all the efforts and plans for the common good."

"I think each of us should be serious with our commitment," Alcala said at the opening of the annual summit.

Greenpeace activists have sought conservation commitments from "fishing powers" at the tuna summit, referring to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the United States and the European Union.

"Pacific tuna fishing powers must act now to recover Pacific tuna stocks from the brink of collapse," Lagi Toribau, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace International, said in a statement.

"They need to agree to a full closure of the Pacific commons-sensitive areas, as well as ban the use of destructive fish aggregating devices, or FADs, associated with purse seine fisheries, so that the Pacific can continue feeding future generations with tuna."

More than 60 percent of the world's tuna comes from the Western and Central Pacific, according to Greenpeace.

Scientists have warned that stocks in this area are under threat from massive overfishing, it said.

"Yellowfin and bigeye tuna, for example, are already under immense pressure due to overfishing and the use of wasteful fishing techniques that lay waste to juvenile tuna and other marine life such as sharks and turtles," the statement read.

Greenpeace said the decline in the tuna population can only be reversed by abandoning destructive techniques and by creating marine reserves in parts of the Pacific so that stocks can recover.

The PEW Environment Group said an estimated 47,000 to 105,000 FADs are currently being used worldwide to catch tuna and other species of fish.

"The deployment of tens of thousands of FADs in the world's oceans with little to no oversight is extremely worrisome," said Amanda Nickson, director of tuna conservation at the PEW Environment Group.

It said fishermen use FADs to lure tuna and other species of fish. The FADs often extend 50 meters below the surface and can be made from a variety of materials, including bamboo floats, plastic ribbons and old nets, it said.

"They can be adrift for years at a time and attract a wide variety of marine life, including skipjack tuna, sharks, billfish, juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna," said Nickson, adding many sea turtles, sharks and juvenile fish are killed in the process.