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WWF to Engage in Independent Assessment of Coral Triangle Skipjack Fisheries

Move Follows Agreement Among Western Central Pacific Countries to Seek Marine Stewardship Council Certification

WASHINGTON, DC, February 25, 2010 — WWF announced its intent to actively engage in the independent assessment of skipjack tuna fisheries in part of the Coral Triangle following today’s declaration by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) to seek Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.

“This step by the ministers of PNA countries to improve their skipjack tuna fisheries and promote responsible fishing through MSC is an important development for the conservation and responsible management of tuna stocks in the Coral Triangle region,” said Dr. Jose Ingles, leader of WWF’s Coral Triangle Tuna Initiative. “WWF will press for issues to be addressed throughout the assessment process and by the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, the regional fisheries management organization that manages fisheries in the area.”

Skipjack is a widely consumed tuna species commonly found in canned tuna products.  Fisheries for skipjack are some of the biggest in the world, with 1.6 million tons caught in the Western Central Pacific area in 2008 alone—the second highest recorded figure in fishing history and worth over $1.5 billion internationally.

The PNA agreed to have their skipjack tuna fisheries assessed against the MSC standards for sustainable fish stock levels, ecosystem health, and effective management. These countries are Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Palau, Nauru and Tuvalu.

The MSC evaluation will only assess skipjack tuna caught in purse seine fisheries in unassociated sets, a fishing technique with the lowest likelihood of catching other overfished species such as juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tunas. This distinct section of the fishery catches approximately 364,000 tons of skipjack tuna per year in the Western and Central Pacific.

“If successful, this certification also brings new hope for heavily exploited juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna in the Coral Triangle, which are mostly caught in skipjack tuna fisheries and hopefully encourage other fisheries, not only tuna, to shift to unassociated sets or perhaps find better solutions to address the juvenile bycatch issue ” Ingles added.

The bycatch of juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna has plagued the Coral Triangle for decades, contributing to the decline of tuna populations in this resource-rich region and on which the food security and livelihoods of millions depend. Other important issues WWF will press for include the need for rigorous traceability ensuring the fish sold is traceable to the particular fisheries.

“Certification of tuna products reflects the growing demand for responsibly-caught seafood by consumers willing to pay a premium. This impels players from the supply chain to step up their efforts and get in on the act of responsible fishing,” Ingles said. “WWF will ensure that sound conservation and management principles are taken into account at every step of this third party auditing process.”

Editors note:

  • The Coral Triangle—the nursery of the seas—is the most diverse marine region on the planet, matched in its importance to life on Earth only by the Amazon rainforest and the Congo basin. Defined by marine areas containing more than 500 species of reef-building coral, it covers around 2.3 million square miles of ocean across six countries in the Indo-Pacific – Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste.
  • It is home to 3,000 species of reef fish and commercially-valuable species such as tuna, whales, dolphins, rays, sharks, and 6 of the 7 known species of marine turtles.
  • The Coral Triangle also directly sustains the lives of more than 120 million people and contains key spawning and nursery grounds for tuna, while healthy reef and coastal systems underpin a growing tourism sector. WWF is working with other NGOs, multilateral agencies and governments around the world to support conservation efforts in the Coral Triangle for the benefit of all.
  • For information on Coral Triangle go to: www.panda.org/coraltriangle 
  • MSC is the world's leading certification and ecolabelling program for sustainable seafood. For more information go to: www.msc.org