The Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (the Convention) established the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) to ensure, through effective management, the long-term conservation and sustainable use of highly migratory fish stocks in the western and central Pacific Ocean.
The Convention was negotiated at a series of multilateral high-level conferences, which included participants from Pacific Island Countries (PICs) and distant water fishing nations, and drew upon the principles of sustainable use, long-term conservation, effective monitoring, control and surveillance and the precautionary approach. The text of the Convention was adopted in September 2000.
Australia ratified the Convention on 22 September 2003 on the basis that it is a ground-breaking management regime that will best serve to protect Australia’s interest in the highly migratory fish stocks of the western and central Pacific Ocean. The Convention entered into force on 19 June 2004.
The Convention holds particular significance for PICs. Many of these nations rely heavily upon their fishing resources for food security and economic viability. For many Pacific Island populations, 70-90 per cent of animal protein comes from the sea. Total employment related to tuna fisheries in PICs is estimated at over 23,000 jobs. The total annual catch of tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean represents around 60 per cent of global tuna production and is a multi-billion dollar fishery.
WCPFC is the world’s largest tuna fishery and includes the area covered by the Australian Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery (ETBF) and Eastern Skipjack Fishery. The ETBF is Australia’s fourth most valuable domestic fishery and accounted for $48.38 million in GVP in 2015-16 (ABARES – Fishery Status Reports 2017). Australia seeks to maintain a share of quota for the sustainable utilisation of this fishery. Key species managed by WCPFC include skipjack, albacore, yellowfin and big eye tuna, several species of bill fish and sharks.
In addition to its commercial significance for Australia, WCPFC provides a key framework for promoting the development of small island developing States in the Pacific that are reliant on highly migratory stocks for food security and economic prosperity.
Australia also seeks to improve fisheries management measures across the region, including through driving the implementation of harvest strategies. This is a natural extension of Australia’s domestic fisheries policy which promotes the use of harvest strategies as a key tool in ensuring the sustainability of its fisheries. Given the large number of members and Australia’s relatively small participation in the fishery, constructive engagement within the Commission and the FFA allows Australia to better protect the particular interests of Australian fishers including their access to stocks subject to limit controls.
Australia’s engagement in WCPFC is interlinked with our engagement in the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), which operates as a regional capacity development bloc to ensure PICs maintain effective participation in WCPFC.
Membership to the WCPFC is limited by the terms of the Convention. As the Convention is now in force, Contracting Parties to the Convention may, by consensus, invite other States and regional economic integration organisations whose nationals and fishing vessels wish to conduct fishing for highly migratory fish stocks in the Convention Area to join.
Current WCPFC members are Australia, China, Canada, Cook Islands, European Union, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, France, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, Republic of Korea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Chinese Taipei, Tonga, Tuvalu, United States of America and Vanuatu.
There are also a number of participating territories to the Convention: American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, French Polynesia, Guam, New Caledonia, Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna.
There are also seven cooperating non-contracting parties to WCPFC: Ecuador, El Salvador, Liberia, Mexico, Panama, Thailand and Vietnam.
Meetings of the WCPFC are held annually in December. The Scientific Committee and the Technical and Compliance Committee meet annually in advance of the Commission meeting in order for WCPFC members to act on the most recent scientific and compliance advice.
For more information on the WCPFC see the WCPFC website.