Tuna by Gregg Yan

Chicken of the Sea – Tuna are among the world’s most important marine commodities, feeding billions of people globally while providing affordable protein for millions of Filipinos. A handline fisherman proudly shows off his catch: a 42-kilogramme Yellowfin Tuna (Thunnus albacares) – one of the most majestic and delectable fish in the sea. (WWF-Philippines / Gregg Yan)

Press Update:

Manila, Philippines: WWF urges the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) to adopt pragmatic measures for limiting the catch of species in the Western Central Pacific Ocean  to stem overfishing.

“The implementation of these measures sets the foundation for a sustainably-managed fishery,” says WWF´s Smart Fishing Initiative Western Central Pacific Tuna Programme Officer Alfred Cook.

“If such management measures such as setting limits on tuna fisheries are not applied soon, tuna fisheries in the Pacific will face continued declines.  This will result in substantial negative impacts on our fishing communities and marine ecosystem.”

WWF calls upon the WCPFC to adopt specific reference points and harvest control rules for tuna fisheries in the Western and Central pacific region. These tools have already proven to be successful in managing fisheries sustainably. Implementing these measures would allow managers to act swiftly and efficiently under a pre-agreed standard to ensure that harvests do not exceed acceptable limits, thus ensuring the sustainability of the resource and the consistent supply of fish to our markets.

“Currently, tuna fisheries in this region are  managed  on an opportunistic basis with a consensus-based system.  This is subject to  competing interests and values that often lead to decisions for short-term economic interests at the expense of long-term productivity and sustainability which eventually leads to overfishing,” says Cook.

The implementation of limits known as ‘reference points’ provide benchmarks around which management measures are standardized and allow for explicit, decisive action to occur in the presence of sound scientific information.

If harvests approach a reference point, the WCPFC must take explicit action defined by harvest control rules to prevent adverse consequences such as overfishing.

“It really is a very simple, concrete and feasible concept.  If you are approaching a designated limit that could result in harm to the fishery, you take action to prevent that from happening.  Right now, the WCPFC doesn’t really have a mechanism to do that in a timely and efficient way,” says Cook.

Once reference points and harvest control rules are in place, they will prevent the bureaucratic paralysis that the WCPFC often encounters due to the annual horse trading and ad hoc rules of the current process.

The politics of the WCPFC process can often hinder decisive and sound decision-making regarding the sustainability of tuna fisheries. Implementation of these measures would prevent essential action from being held hostage over the political concerns of a single member state by providing clear, objective, and scientific measures that constitute pre-agreed standards for taking explicit, science-based action on fisheries conservation.

Also the private sector stands to gain from implementing these measures from a market perspective. Reference points and harvest control rules are part of the conditions to be able to enter the certification process of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) – currently the best available certification scheme in the market that awards sustainably-managed fisheries.

“Our ultimate goal is to put a halt to overfishing, to ensure our fish stocks remain in a healthy state so that there is sustainable supply of fish to our markets. We strongly encourage certifying tuna fisheries according to the MSC programme,” says Cook.

Towards this end, WWF and a large group of responsible buyers, harvesters, processors, and traders, are making a pledge to the WCFPC Commission to support well-planned and designed tuna fishery improvement and conservation initiatives to sustain livelihoods, minimize environmental impacts and supply the world with responsibly-managed, high quality tuna through certification according to the MSC standards.

Concludes WWF-Philippines Conservation Programmes Head Joel Palma, “These measures are crucial in safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of millions of fishermen within the Coral Triangle. By fishing smarter rather than harder, we can ensure a steady supply of seafood for years to come.”

About WWF:

WWF is the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organization, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries.  WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.


Reference points: A Reference Point is a benchmark value that helps managers decide how the fishery is performing and is often based on an indicator such as fishery stock size or the level of fishing. Fisheries scientists conduct a fishery stock assessment to provide estimates of a fishery stock size and fishing mortality over time. Reference Points serve as a standard to compare those estimates based on our understanding of the biological characteristics of the targeted species. Reference points can mark a limit, which represents a level that managers aim to avoid, or a target, which managers strive to achieve and maintain. Managers can also establish a trigger that is independent of the limit or target that is designed to meet other objectives.

A harvest control rule:  is a pre-agreed action to be taken by a management body designed to achieve a medium or long-term target reference point while avoiding reaching a limit reference point. Simple Harvest Control Rules can be described as an “if, then” statement. An example of a very simple Harvest Control Rule would be “if the fishery stock level falls below the target level, then the level of fishing must be reduced by 20 percent.” Managers may additionally agree in advance what the specific management actions are to reach that 20 percent reduction in the level of fishing, such as a regional closure or gear restriction.