SPRFMO continues to allow unsustainable fishing, even as it recognizes that consistency with UN General Assembly resolutions is paramount

Date: January 31, 2014

The second Commission meeting of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO) took place in Manta, Ecuador from 27-31 January.

The most important task of SPRFMO this year for the deep sea was to agree a measure to control bottom fishing to replace the interim measure which had been in place since 2007.

New Zealand’s bottom fishing industry had declared that it did not want any measure which was compliant with resolutions that the United Nations General Assembly has passed from 2004-2011 to regulate against the harnful effects of bottom fishing on the deep-sea environment.  Instead the New Zealand industry pushed for its own system of management.

The DSCC attended the meeting to remind SPRFMO that it must adopt and implement a measure consistent with the UN General Assembly resolutions, as well as the Deep Sea Guidelines negotiated under the UN FAO.

Of particular interest to DSCC was the issue of sustainability of deep-sea stocks.  The DSCC does not believe that the catch limits of 2002-2006 which have been in place since 2007 are sustainable.

Duncan Currie, Legal Adviser to the DSCC, who attended the meeting, said “We were disappointed that SPRFMO has continued to allow unsustainable fishing.  The DSCC strongly supports science-based decision-making, and encourages New Zealand and Australia, in particular, to ensure that the required stock assessments are undertaken.”

The result of the meeting is a two year measure, during which time the Scientific Committee will undertake stock assessments, including of bycatch.  The Committee will further provide advice and recommendations on criteria of what constitutes evidence of an encounter with vulnerable marine ecosystems, especially relating to threshold and indicator species.  Other matters such as mapping of the existing fishing ‘footprint’ will also be undertaken.

In addition to the intervention made by the DSCC during the meeting, the DSCC has provided advice on the draft measure throughout its development.

“The DSCC is pleased with the continued emphasis on prior impact assessments and recognition that SPRFMO must act consistently with the United Nations resolutions,” said Currie.

SPRFMO further agreed a welcome measure to control effects of pelagic fishing on seabirds.

In an unusual turn of events, a measure was adopted by a vote to limit jack mackerel catches at 390,000 tonnes (normally decisions are passed by consensus).  Russia voted against the measure. Last year Russia last year to the 2013 jack mackerel measure, and took its objection to international arbitration.

SPRFMO to date has led the world in transparency.  The DSCC and other observers were concerned that observers were excluded from the bottom fishing, seabirds and jack mackerel working groups. The DSCC expressed concern to delegates and officials, and looks forward to further SPRFMO meetings returning to full transparency.