Pacific Nations Agree to Regulate Tuna Catch

By Cat Lazaroff

HONOLULU, Hawaii, September 6, 2000 (ENS) - The United States and 18 other nations signed a pact Tuesday to create an international commission to protect tuna in the Pacific Ocean. Japan and Korea voted against the agreement, and Japan vowed to ignore its rules unless member nations agreed to consider Japanís concerns.


Fishing for bigeye tuna, like this one caught for scientific tagging, would be regulated by the new commission (Photo courtesy National Marine Fisheries Service)
The commission created by Tuesdayís signing ceremony would have the power to set fishing quotas for four tuna species - albacore, bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin - and a handful of other migratory fish. Observers appointed by the commission would monitor the catch from onboard the boats of international fishing fleets.

Transport and sales of fish at sea would be regulated by the commission. Fees paid by member countries would support regulation and enforcement efforts.

The tuna protection measure was approved by 19 of the 24 nations attending the seventh meeting of the Multilateral High-Level Conference (MHLC) on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific.

The MLHC is a coalition of 29 nations and several regional and fishing industry groups, formed five years ago in response to a United Nations agreement regarding the conservation and management of migratory and "straddling" fish stocks, which cross international borders.

The MLHC includes coastal and island nations of the Pacific Ocean region, as well as long distance fishing nations like Japan, Korea and China.

yellow fin

A school of yellow fin tuna, another species that would be regulated by the new commission (Photo courtesy National Undersea Research Program)
Japan and South Korea voted against the commission. China, France and Tonga abstained from the vote.

Saying the group ignored its concerns about the boundaries of the affected fishing zone, Japan warned it would not submit to the new commissionís quotas and other rules.

"If Australia, New Zealand and their voting bloc continue to trample upon our rights and ignore our views, they will leave us no choice but to continue our fishing in the area outside of the proposed convention," said Masayuki Komatsu of the Japanese delegation.

At stake is the most lucrative tuna fishing region in the world, responsible for two thirds of the annual catch and between $1.5 billion and $2 billion a year in sales.

The agreement "reflects a fair balance of interests, in particular between developing Pacific countries in whose national areas large stocks of tuna fish are found, and distant water fishing states which fish in the central and western Pacific," said Satya Nandan of Fiji, chairman of the MHLC.

The commission would use scientific studies to determine annual quotas for each fish species, and set limits on where and when they can be caught. Gear restrictions would also come from the commission.

This was the final scheduled conference of the MHLC, and Japanís delegates said pressure to complete an agreement on tuna prompted many nations to agree to a flawed commission.


National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists weighing weighing yellow-fin tuna (Photo courtesy NOAA)
China abstained from the vote because Taiwan, which China does not recognize as an independent state, was given membership in the MHLC. Taiwan controls one of the Pacificís largest fishing fleets, second only to that of Japan.

The convention creating the committee will take effect when it is approved by the governments of three nations located north of 20 degrees north latitude, and seven states south of that line. The majority of the major fishing nations are located north of the line, but most of the tuna catch is made south of the line.

Several of the nations that approved the convention, including the United States, must still seek government approval for the agreement.

Once enough nations have approved the treaty, a conference to create regulatory mechanisms for the commission will be scheduled.