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Stock Status and Conservation Information
(From ISC17 Plenary Report)

Pacific Bluefin Tuna

Stock Status

The Pacific Bluefin (PBF) Working Groups conducted a bench mark assessment (base-case model) that used the best available fisheries and biological information. The base-case model fits the data that were considered to be more reliable well and was internally consistent among most of the sources of data. The 2016 base-case model was a substantial improvement compared to the 2014 assessment and fits all reliable data well. The base-case model indicates:

  1. spawning stock biomass (SSB) fluctuated throughout the assessment period
    (fishing years 1952-2014)
  2. the SSB steadily declined from 1996 to 2010
  3. the decline appears to have ceased since 2010

although the stock remains near the historic low. The model diagnostics suggest that the estimated biomass trend for the last 30 years is robust although SSB prior to the 1980s is uncertain due to data limitations.

Using the base-case model, the 2014 (terminal year) SSB was estimated to be around 17,000 t, which is about 9,000 t below the terminal year estimated in the 2014 assessment (26,000 in 2012). This was because of improvements to the input data and refinements to the assessment model scaled down the estimated value of SSB and not because the SSB declined from 2012 to 2014.

Recruitment estimates fluctuate widely without an apparent trend. The 2014 recruitment was relatively low, and the average recruitment for the last five years may have been below the historical average level. Note that recruitments in terminal years in an assessment are highly uncertain due to limited information on the cohorts. However, two of the last three data points from the Japanese troll CPUE-based index of recruitment, which was consistent with other data in the model, are at their lowest level since the start of the index (1980). Most age-specific fishing mortalities (F) for intermediate ages (2-10 years) are substantially above F2002-2004 while those for age 0 as well as ages 11 and above are lower.

Although no limit reference points have been established for the PBF stock under the auspices of the WCPFC and IATTC, the F2011-2013 exceeds all calculated biological reference points except for FMED and FLOSS despite slight reductions to F in recent years. The ratio of SSB in 2014 relative to the theoretical 1 SSB (SSB2014/SSBF=0, the depletion ratio) is 2 and SSB2012/SSBF=0 is 2.1% indicating a slight increase from 2012 to 2014. Although the SSB2014/SSBF=0 for this assessment (2.6%) is lower than SSB2012/SSBF=0 from the 2014 assessment (4.2%), this difference is due to improvements to the input data and model structure rather than a decline in SSB from 2012 to 2014. Note that potential effects on Fs as a result of the measures of the WCPFC and IATTC that started in 2015 or by other voluntary measures were not yet reflected in the data used in this assessment.

Since reference points for PBF have yet to be identified, two examples of Kobe plots are presented. These versions of the Kobe plot represent two interpretations of stock status in an effort to prompt further discussion. In summary, if these were the reference points, overfishing would be occurring or just at the threshold in the case of FMED; and the stock would be considered overfished. Plot B in ISC/16/ANNEX/XX shows that the stock has remained in an overfished and overfishing status for the vast majority of the assessment period if F20% and SSB20% are the reference points. The ISC notes that the SSB estimates before 1980 are more uncertain and that the reason why the fishing mortality is estimated to be so high right after the WWII is not well understood. The low biomass level at the beginning of the assessment period (1952) could potentially have been the result of relatively high catches prior to the assessment period.

Historically, the WPO coastal fisheries group has had the greatest impact on the PBF stock, but since about the early 1990s the WPO purse seine fleets, in particular those targeting small fish (age 0-1), have had a greater impact, and the effect of these fleets in 2014 was greater than any of the other fishery groups. The impact of the EPO fishery was large before the mid-1980s, decreasing significantly thereafter. The WPO longline fleet has had a limited effect on the stock throughout the analysis period. This is because the impact of a fishery on a stock depends on both the number and size of the fish caught by each fleet; i.e., catching a high number of smaller juvenile fish can have a greater impact on future spawning stock biomass than catching the same weight of larger mature fish.

Conservation Information

The steady decline in SSB from 1996 to 2010 appears to have ceased, although SSB2014 is near the historic low and the stock is experiencing exploitation rates above all calculated biological reference points except for FMED and FLOSS.

The projection results are based on the base-case model under several harvest and recruitment scenarios and time schedules. Under all examined scenarios the initial goal of WCPFC, rebuilding to SSBMED by 2024 with at least 60% probability, is reached and the risk of SSB falling below SSBLOSS at least once in 10 years was low.

The projection results show that the probability of SSB recovering to the initial WCPFC target (SSBMED by 2024, 41,000 t, calculated in the same manner as the previous assessment) is 61.5% or above the level prescribed in the WCPFC CMM if low recruitment scenario is assumed and WCPFC CMM 2015-04 and IATTC Resolution C-14-06 continue in force and are fully implemented (Scenario 2 with low recruitment). Scenario 2 with low recruitment has the lowest prospect of recovery among the examined harvest scenarios. The probability of achieving the WCPFC’s initial target (SSBMED by 2024) would increase if more conservative management measures were implemented. The projection results indicate that a 10% reduction in the catch limit for fish smaller than the weight threshold in CMM 2015-04 would have a larger effect on recovery than a 10% reduction in the catch limit for fish larger than the weight threshold. The ISC notes that the current assessment model uses a maturity ogive that assumes 20%, 50% and 100% maturity in age 3 (weight on July 1: 34kg), 4 (weight on July 1: 58kg) and 5 (weight on July 1: 85kg), respectively, while the WCPFC CMM 2015-04 specifies that catches of fish smaller than 30kg should be reduced. The weight threshold in the CMM needs to be increased to 85kg (weight of age 5) if the intent is to reduce catches on all juveniles according to the maturity ogive in the assessment.

The projections results assuming a stronger stock-recruitment relationship (where h=0.9) than in the assessment model are not necessarily more pessimistic than the low recruitment scenario.

The projection results assume that the CMMs are fully implemented and are based on certain biological or other assumptions. In particular, the ISC noted the implementation of size based management measures need to be monitored carefully. If conditions change, the projection results would be more uncertain. Given the low SSB, the uncertainty in future recruitment, and the influence of recruitment has on stock biomass, monitoring recruitment and SSB should be strengthened so that the recruitment trends can be understood in a timely manner.

It should be noted that recent data (2016) on the abundance of large fish from Japanese and Taiwanese longline fisheries are higher than those of 2014 and 2015.

Japan reported that recent data from Japanese real-time monitoring on cohorts of 2015 and 2016 suggests that they are above that of 2014 (see ISC/17/ANNEX/07). While this information is encouraging, it needs to be vetted to assess its utility.

ISC conducted further projections on various harvest and recruitment scenarios in accordance with the requests of RFMOs and the result was presented to the ISC PBF Stakeholder Meeting in April, 2017 (ISC/17/ANNEX/11). Notable points from the additional analysis were:

  • Different recruitment scenarios forecast entirely different levels of SSB in the future;
  • Under average recruitment conditions, all harvest scenarios achieve the initial rebuilding target of SSBMED1952-2014 by 2024;
  • Under all recruitment conditions with zero removals (no fishing), SSB trajectories achieved all rebuilding targets by approximately 2020 and the initial rebuilding target, SSBMED1952-2014, within 2-3 years;
  • Achieving 20%SSB0 during the projection period was not possible in most of the low recruitment scenarios;
  • The probability of SSB falling below the historical lowest level at any time during the projection period is low (< 2%) in all projections;
  • Scenarios that do not have catch limits for large fish in the EPO and WPO, or has a higher catch limit for large fish in WPO, do not achieve the initial rebuilding target, SSBMED1952-2014, by 2024 under low recruitment conditions;
  • Reducing the catch of small fish results in positive impacts on SSB trajectories, even with increases in the catch of large fish in the WPO.