WCPFC sets regionwide rules to protect marine life

The major rules in the region for protecting marine ecosystems 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.

Extra rules apply in waters governed by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (see below).

CMMs to strengthen and protect marine ecosystems cover the marine environment as a whole, the tuna that live in them, the marine life that tuna depend on, and the animals that depend on tuna. They also cover the protection of other ocean life that is not targeted in fishing operations, but is caught accidentally. These include seabirds and turtles.

There is also a CMM to cover marine pollution that originates in the sea and on land. Some examples are:

  • lost or discarded fishing gear and fish-aggregating devices
  • shipboard waste
  • spills of oil and other chemicals from operating ships and wrecks
  • plastics and microplastics in the water and on reefs and coastlines, whether from ships or washed out to sea from the land.

CMMs governing tuna ecosystems and climate change

2017-04, Marine pollution

  • CCMs will prohibit their fishing vessels from discharging any plastic while inside the Convention area. This excludes fishing gear.
  • They are also encouraged to prohibit their fishing vessels from discharging petrochemical products and residues, garbage, waste, fishing gear, incinerator ashes, cooking oil, and sewage
  • CCMs are encouraged to develop frameworks to handle the reporting and sharing of information on the loss of fishing gear, to encourage their fishing vessels to retrieve gear and, where this is not possible, to accurately record what is lost and where
  • CCMs are requested to provide facilities in port to accept waste, with SIDS being supported to do this by wealthy fishing nations
  • WCPFC encourages all CCMs to ratify the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) and the London Protocol on prevention of marine pollution

Read the CMM

2013-07, Special requirements of SIDS and territories

  • Promote the development and transfer of fisheries science and technology to SIDS for their economic and social benefit. This includes the capacity to conserve and manage oceanic fish stocks.

Read the CMM

Conservation of marine species and their environments

2019-04, Sharks
  • States the species of sharks the CMM applies to, and defines sharks as referring to all species of sharks, skates, rays and chimeras (in the scientific class Chondrichthyes)
  • 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 Commission how they meet this CMM
  • They 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 the impact of fishing on seabirds
  • Notes in particular that albatrosses and petrels are threatened with extinction worldwide
    CCMs are to implement the FAOs International Plan of Action for Reducing incidental catches of seabirds in longline fisheries, and report to the Commission how they are doing this
    Specifies the measures longline vessels are to use to minimise the catch and harm of seabirds north and south of 23° of latitude
2018-04, Sea turtles
  • Notes that the five species of marine turtle found in the Convention area are threatened with extinction or are critically endangered, and notes that the Pacific leatherback has declined drastically in the past 30 years
  • CCMs are to implement the FAOs Guidelines to reduce sea turtle mortality in fishing operations, and report to the Commission how they are doing this
  • Fishing vessels are to avoid encircling, entangling or hooking sea turtles
  • Lists practices and equipment that purse-seine and longline vessels should use to protect turtles from capture or entanglement, and how to care for them and return them to the water safely
  • All incidents that involve sea turtles are to be reported to the WCPFC committees to contribute to research on better ways to protect turtles

Read the CMM


2014-06, Harvest strategies for key fisheries and stocks
  • Sets out the principles for setting and implementing reference points and harvest strategies for economically important fish species in the WCPFC. It aims to protect these species to care for marine environments and so that fishing will remain viable for generations.

Read the CMM

2013-05, Daily catch and effort reporting
  • Each vessel must report in the way specified on daily catch and effort, including days when no fish are caught and no fishing occurs
  • Catch information must include interactions with other species, particularly key shark species (see CMM 2010-07) and cetaceans (e.g. whales, dolphins), seabirds and turtles

Read the CMM


2019-01, Resolution on climate change as it relates to the WCPFC
  • The WCPFC will consider the effects of climate change on highly migratory fish stocks
  • It will also consider the effects of climate change on the economies of CCMs, and the food security and livelihoods of the people of CCMs, particularly those in the small island developing states
  • It will support more scientific research on the relationship between climate change and:
    target stocks
    non-target stocks
    species that belong in the same ecosystem as the target stocks, or depend on them in some way
    how species and oceanic environments interact
  • WCPFC will consider how climate change and fishing are related, and address unwanted effects
  • The WCPFC will reduce the environmental effects of its own operations

Read the CMM

2005-03, Resolution on Non-target fish species
  • CCMs are to encourage their fishing vessels operating in the Convention area to avoid the capture of all fish species that are not the target of fishing operations
  • Any that are caught are to be released back into the water unharmed as soon as possible

Read the CMM

One of the goals of the Pacific Islands Oceanic Fisheries Management Project (OFMP2) is that states work together to lessen the effects of climate change. The aim is to adapt national management and conservation efforts so they are harmonised across the region. With these tools, the states will protect stocks of tuna and other valuable fish, and the environment they live in, so that people can continue to harvest them for food and income. For local people, tuna also has cultural importance.

A related goal is for the countries of the WCPO and those that fish in the region to reduce marine pollution. This encompasses rubbish and waste in the open ocean and on reefs and along coasts. This will help rebuild degraded marine environment to protect fisheries. Nations are expected to do this by coordinating legal, policy and institutional reforms. The nations of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean are doing this through regional and sub-regional arrangements. As much as possible, countries will also align national reforms with these goals. It is also expected that states will take into account climate change and natural variability in the climate.

Subregional agreements on conservation of the environment

The Parties to the Nauru Agreement prohibits purse-seine vessels from settings nets on or around whale sharks when fishing in members waters. This is very similar to the region-wide rule described in the WCPFC CMM 2012-04.

Subregional agreements on climate change

The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) has 18 members, plus Tokelau as an associate member. Members signed the Boe Declaration on Regional Security in 2018. It recognises climate change as the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the people of the Pacific. It comes with an action plan.

Members agreed to implement the Paris Agreement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This commits the countries that sign it to contribute to worldwide effort to minimise the increase in global temperature. They aim to limit the temperature to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. (The maximum allowed under the Paris Agreement is an increase of less than 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.)

Chinese longline tuna fishing vessels in Suva Harbour, Fiji. Photo Francisco Blaha.
Chinese longliners under a big sky in Suva Harbour, Fiji the changing climate is affecting island states and fishing operations. Photo: Francisco Blaha.