Rules advise how to avoid bycatch, and how to release caught animals

The major rules for protecting marine animals while allowing for sustainable harvesting of tuna and other fish are decided by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). It meets once a year to decide on rules and policies that support the management of the tuna fisheries of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO). The rules are called conservation and management measures (CMMs). They are binding. The WCPFC also sets resolutions, which are recommended courses of action but are not binding.

The WCPFC is made up of three groups of countries: members, cooperating non-members, and participating territories. They are known collectively as CCMs. Among the members are the 14 small island developing states (SIDS) of the WCPO.

WCPFC maintains all CMMs and resolutions.

Some CMMs are directed at reducing harm to animals that are often caught during tuna fishing. These animals are known collectively as bycatch. The animals most likely to become bycatch are sharks, sea turtles, whales, dolphins, and seabirds. Many of these animals face extinction. Bycatch also includes juvenile tuna that are too young to harvest.


2020-01,Bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack tuna in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean
  • It is compulsory for fish-aggregating devices (FADs) to be designed and constructed to prevent animals from becoming entangled in them.
  • Mesh should be avoided, but if it is used, it must be less than 7 cm when stretched
  • Any mesh used on raft to be securely wrapped so as not to hang, and if used in tail must be tightly bundled and tied into a sausage shape
  • The Scientific Committee will continue to review research and recommend the best materials to use and the Commission will consider adopting new measures regarding materials used in FADs
    • WCPFC promotes the use of natural or biodegradable materials to avoid further build up of synthetic marine debris

    Read the CMM


    Marine animals

    2019-04, Sharks
    • States the species of sharks the CMM applies to
    • CCMs will implement the FAO International plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks, and report to the Commission how they are doing this
    • Each CCM will submit data on the WCPFC Key Shark Species for Data Provision
    • Finning is prohibited
    • All parts of any sharks that are retained on board must be used
    • Each shark carcass must be kept, with its fins, in the same bag, preferably biodegradable. Each bag is to be identified clearly so that inspectors can verify the information. Each shark carcass must be landed or transhipped with its fins.
    • Lists requirements for specific sharks
    • This CMM replaced CMMs 2010-07, 2011-04, 2012-04, 2013-08 and 2014-05 on 1 November 2020

    Read the CMM


    2019-05, Mobulid rays
    • Notes international conservation conventions that list mobula and manta rays, and notes that they are vulnerable to overfishing
    • CCMs will prohibit their vessels from targeting mobulid rays, and will report to the WCPFC how they meet this CMM
    • CCMs are prohibited from keeping on board, transhipping or landing any mobulid rays (whole or part animal)
    • Fishing vessels are to release any mobulid rays they catch promptly, alive and unharmed
      • Any ray that is unintentionally caught and landed must be surrendered to government authorities. These rays may not be sold or bartered, but may be given away for eating.

      Read the CMM

      2018-03, Mitigate impacts of fishing on seabirds
      • Implement FAOsInternational plan of action for reducing incidental catches of seabirds in longline fisheries(IPOA-Seabirds)
      • Report on how IPOA-Seabirds is implemented, including national plans of action for reducing incidental catches of seabirds in longline fisheries
      • Longline vessels fishing south of 30°S are to use at least 2 of the following 3 measures: weighted branch lines, night setting or tori lines (bird-scaring lines); or hook-shielding devices
      • From 1 January 2020,require longline vessels fishing from 25°S30°S are to use 1 of these measures: weighted branch lines, tori lines, or hook-shielding devices. This requirement does not apply in the EEZs of Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, or Tonga.
      • Countries fishing south of 25°S are encouraged to collect data on interactions with seabirds, increase observer coverage as appropriate, and implement seabird-mitigation measures when operating inside their EEZ
      • Large longline vessels (>24 metres) fishing north of 23°N are to use at least 2 of the mitigation measures listed in the table below. At least 1 of those measures must be from Column A.
      • Small longline vessels (<24 metres) fishing north of 23°N are to use at least 1 of the mitigation measures listed in Column A.
      • All longline vessels fishing in areas between 25°S and 23°N are encouraged to use 1 or more of the seabird bycatch-mitigation measures listed in the table below
      • All countries with longline vessels fishing from 25°S to 23°N are encouraged to report annually on the mitigation measures they require vessels to use, and report on any changes made to these requirements
      • Undertake research and report on any research that improves seabird bycatch-mitigation measures
      • Use measures that make sure that any seabird captured alive during longlining is released alive and in the best possible condition, including removing any hooks
      • Report annually all data collected by observers on interactions with seabirds

      Read the CMM


      2018-04,Sea turtles
      • This measure came into effect on 1 January 2020, and replaced CMM 2008-03
      • Implement FAOsGuidelines to reduce sea turtle mortality in fishing operations, and ensure the safe handling of all captured turtles
      • Ensure fishers bring on board any captured hard-shell turtle that is comatose or inactive, and foster its recovery before returning it to the water
      • Ensure operators of purse-seine vessels:
        avoid encircling sea turtles, but if turtles are accidentally entangled, ensure they are safely released;
        release all sea turtles tangled in FADs or other fishing gear;
        stop a net roll if a turtle is entangled, and release it before continuing the net roll; and
        carry and use dip nets to handle turtles
      • Ensure operators of longline fishing vessels carry and use line cutters, de-hookers and dip nets to handle and promptly release any turtles caught or entangled
      • Ensure longline vessels set for shallow-set fishing use at least 1 of these measures to reduce their impact on turtles: large circle hooks that have an offset of no more than 10°, finfish bait only, or another approved measure
      • The Scientific Committee may waive the previous requirement if the country can demonstrate both minimal interaction with sea turtles over 3 consecutive years and observer coverage of at least 10% during the same period
      • Operators of fishing vessels must record and report all incidents involving turtles
      • Report the results of any research into modified FADs that avoid turtle entanglement

      Read the CMM


      2011-03,Impacts of purse-seine fishing on cetaceans (whales and dolphins)

      • Vessels are prohibited from setting a purse seine on a school of tuna when a cetacean is sighted before the start of a set
      • Ensure the safe release of any cetacean accidentally encircled in a purse-seine net, and report the details of these incidents
      • Keep the safety of the crew as a paramount concern over any efforts to release whales or dolphins

      Read the CMM


      Seabird bycatch mitigation measures

      Column A

      Side setting with a bird curtain and weighted branch lines

      Night setting with minimum deck lighting

      Tori line

      Weighted branch lines

      Hook-shielding devices

      Column B 

      Tori line

      Blue-dyed bait

      Deep-setting line shooter

      Management of offal discharge


      Extra rules for reducing bycatch cover fishing in PNA waters

      Several agreements made by PNA members include provisions to protect species that are not targeted by vessels fishing for tuna or other sought-after fish. The species that are caught accidentally during fishing are known as bycatch.

      The third arrangement for implementing the agreement states (in Article 1, paragraph 2) that no vessels are to deploy or service fish-aggregating devices (FADs) and associated equipment, or to fish by purse-seining vessels on floating objects between 0001 GMT on 1 July and 2359 GMT on 30 September each year. This rule is partly directed at reducing bycatch related to the use of FADs.

      A 2011 amendment to this arrangement prohibits fishing, or any related activity, designed to catch tuna associated with whale sharks.

      Two men (face of one obscured) on fishing vessel looking out over water. Photo Francisco Blaha.
      Scanning for diving birds preventing seabirds from becoming caught is better than releasing them afterwards. Photo: Francisco Blaha.