Currently, shark fins are allowed to be separated at sea, but the rest of the carcass must be kept on the same vessel and the total volume of fins has to be five percent of the total weight of bodies on board. But the manager of WWF’s global shark and ray initiative, Ian Campbell, says this system can be easily gamed, as it’s difficult to enforce.

At the commission’s December meeting in Bali Indonesia, the European Union, with the support of many Pacific nations and the United States, proposed a rule that would have required all fins to remain attached to the bodies until a vessel docked. But that proposal was knocked back by several countries including Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand, which is disappointing, to say the least.

Another disappointing fact is that the WCPFC seems to be continuing with its ineffective implementation of measures to address declining tuna stocks. Following the conclusion of the meeting, WWF is encouraged by the progress that was made with respect to observer safety and security, as well as the establishment of a Target Reference Point (TRP) for skipjack tuna. But effective measures to address the declining South Pacific albacore stock and end overfishing of bigeye tuna remain elusive.

Observer safety? What is that you might ask; well this is another sombre situation that most of us are unaware of. Fisheries observers are placed on all commercial fishing vessels in Pacific waters, to collect unbiased biological data and to document specimens on board these vessels. This data is vital to understanding fishing operations and ensuring the sustainability of fish stocks. In many cases the observers aren’t very welcome on board. They are viewed as taking up space and as a potential threat, because they do identify any activities that might be considered illegal, which in effect, puts them at risk.

The deaths of at least two fisheries officers at sea have prompted the hard line stand taken at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s 12th Regular Session. As recently as September 10, 2015, Keith Davis, a well-respected fisheries observer, went missing in broad daylight and calm seas while working on the M/V Victoria No.168 carrier vessel, a Japanese owned, Chinese operated, Panamanian-flagged transhipment vessel, taking fish from a Taiwanese-owned, Vanuatu-flagged longline vessel, the Chung Kuo No. 818. (A whole lot of cloak and daggers, smoke and mirrors . . .)

From the end of 2016 all observers will have to carry independent two way communication satellite-based devices and waterproof personal lifesaving beacons. These will allow them to call home without having to ask the ship’s captain to use his facilities and will track the observer’s location in case they “fall” overboard. Commission members running observer programs will also have to have an Emergency Action Plan in place to respond to urgent requests from their observers when they face threats.

Bubba Cook, the WWF’s Western Central Pacific Ocean Tuna Programme Manager, said the tuna industry actively cover up these incidents. “They try to keep those stories in-house because they know that no one will want to buy tuna that people die to produce,” he said.

Again, we as consumers have the power, don’t you think it is time we implement it?

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