International Fisheries Division

The PIRO International Fisheries Division provides policy advice on and technical and administrative support for, international fisheries agreements and related issues in the western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO).

Les Hata, ©SPC

The need for international cooperation in fisheries management is driven by the highly migratory nature of many of the targeted and bycatch species and the exploitation of common resources outside areas of national jurisdiction, on the high seas. The high seas are regarded as global commons, accessible to anyone. With open access and no defined mechanism for regulating the use of the resources, the result can be overexploitation such as overfishing.

The term "highly migratory species" (HMS) derives from Article 64 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Annex I to the Convention lists species considered highly migratory by parties to the Convention. In general, these species (such as tuna and billfish) have a wide geographic distribution, both on the high seas and inside the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of many nations, and undertake migrations of significant but variable distances. They are pelagic species, which means they do not live near the sea floor, and mostly live in the open ocean, although they may spend part of their life cycle in nearshore waters. These species are harvested by domestic and foreign fishing fleets. The U.S. accounts for a relatively small fraction of the HMS caught in the WCPO. Click here for a table of tuna catches in the WCPO by nation.

Many bycatch species of concern (e.g. various marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles and sharks) possess similar attributes to target fish species, such as having wide geographic distribution and undertaking significant migrations.

Images ©SPC

The primary international regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) for HMS in this region is the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). Some Hawaii-based vessels also conduct limited fishing to the east of 150° west and therefore enter the area of competence of another RFMO, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). The participation of the U.S. purse seine fleet operating in the western Pacific is governed by the Treaty on Fisheries Between the Governments of Certain Pacific Island States and the Government of the United States of America (South Pacific Tuna Treaty- SPTT), which provides for U.S. vessels to fish in the EEZs of certain Pacific Island countries.

Overfishing and habitat damage particularly from deep-sea trawling on the high seas is prompting the initiation of multilateral agreements to address this problem in the north and south Pacific Ocean. The South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (SPRFMO) was created to manage resources in the South Pacific and adopted the Convention on the Conservation and Management of the High Seas Fishery Resources of the South Pacific Ocean in Auckland, New Zealand on 14 November 2009.

In 2006 delegations from Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States, met in Tokyo to discuss the management of north western Pacific Ocean high seas bottom trawl fisheries. Participants recognized that creation of any formal arrangement would be a lengthy process and that, pending development of any such arrangement, more urgent action is needed in respect to these fisheries. They adopted revised interim measures in 2009 and agreed to continue discussions on this issue on an accelerated basis. The most recent meeting, which included discussion of a draft Convention, and included Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States, as well as Canada, China, Chinese Taipei and Faroe Islands, was held in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia in September 2010. The next meeting to discuss the draft Convention text is scheduled to be held in Vancouver, Canada in February 2011.

The American Samoa port sampling program has been collecting data and sampling fish at the canneries since the mid to early 1960s when the NMFS Honolulu Laboratory sent personnel down to sample and collect data from Asian longline vessels offloading at the canneries in Pago Pago. In 1980 a full time Port Sampler was hired by the Honolulu Lab to collect logsheets and sample Asian longliners, U.S. purse seine vessels, and troll (jigboat) vessels unloading to the two canneries. In the early years of the program, logsheets and sampling on vessels unloading at the canneries was strictly voluntary and vessels had the option of refusing to allow the port sampler to sample the fish and submit data. Although most vessels opted to sample their catch (fork lengths), logsheet collection was very sporadic and mainly consisted of obtaining general fishing area information. In June 1988, the SPTT was signed and data collection and length frequency sampling of the catch became mandatory for the U.S. purse seine fleet. In the early 1990s a fleet of U.S. longline vessels began fishing in American Samoa on a regular basis which gave way to the American Samoa Longline Limited Entry Permit Program. Since the closing of one of the two canneries in American Samoa in September 2009 landings have declined with vessels transshipping in other regional ports. Despite all the changes in 2009, the U.S. SPTT and the American Samoa longline fleet port sampling program still remains as the main source of data and sampling for the region.

Images courtesy of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Noumea, New Caledonia

NMFS announces the 2014 meeting of the WCPFC Permanent Advisory Committee - Public Meeting to be held October 6 - October 7 in Honolulu, HI. . For more information please view the Federal Register Notice here.

NOAA Fisheries publishes a proposed rule to revise the 2014 limit on fishing effort by U.S. purse seine vessels on the high seas and in the U.S. EEZ in the western and central Pacific Ocean. View the proposed rule in the Federal Register and supporting documents here.

NOAA Fisheries publishes an advance notice of proposed rulemaking and request for comments on fishing capacity limits in purse seine and longline fisheries in the western and central Pacific Ocean. View the notice in the Federal Register here.

NOAA Fisheries publishes a notice of request for information (79 FR 19870) about any plan or intent to seek authorization for a U.S. purse seine vessel to participate in the western and central Pacific Ocean purse seine fishery. View the information request in the Federal Register here.

Instructions on how to respond to the request for information can be found here.

NOAA Fisheries publishes a final rule to establish annual bigeye tuna catch limits for U.S. pelagic longline fisheries in the western and central Pacific Ocean for 2013-2014. View the final rule in the Federal Register and supporting documentation here. The final rule is effective October 23, 2013. A copy of the Compliance Guide for this final rule is available here.

NOAA Fisheries publishes a final rule (78 FR 30773) to establish fishing restrictions and observer requirements for purse seine fisheries in the western and central Pacific Ocean for 2013-2014. This final rule becomes effective June 24, 2013. A copy of the Compliance Guide for this final rule is available here.

NOAA publishes final rule to establish WCPFC transshipping, bunkering, reporting and purse seine discard requirements. This final rule becomes effective January 2, 2013. For more information view the Federal Register notice and supporting documentation here.

A copy of the Compliance Guide for the 2012 WCPFC transshipping, bunkering, reporting and purse siene discard requirements is available on our website here.