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Pacific Fisheries Approve Reduction in Tuna Fishing

Members of a 32-nation block have voted to limit the number of tuna caught in parts of the Pacific. Environmentalists and wildlife conservation groups are championing the new restrictions. Meeting in the South Korean port city of Busan, the member states of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission have approved a measure to reduce the annual catch of bigeye tuna by 30 percent over three years.

A proposed 10 percent reduction on the yellowfin tuna catch was not adopted.

Fisheries in the Pacific produce more than half of the world's tuna supply and due to rising demand in the developed world, notably in Japan and the United States, stocks have been drastically depleted.

For some environmental groups, this decision is long overdue.

"From 2001 scientists warned that 30 percent and 10 percent [limits] of bigeye and yellowfin [should be adopted] but seven years already passed and to get the 30 percent reduction we have to wait three years more," said Yey Yeong Choi, vice chairman of the Korea Federation for Environmental Movement. "The reduction percentage or amount of the fishing, could be more."

The move by the WCPFC follows another resolution reached in November that places limits on the number of Atlantic bluefin tuna caught each year.

The new regulations in the Pacific call for a gradual reduction of catch in longline fisheries and an end to a fishing method using floating objects. The latter is known to result in the errant catch of juvenile bigeye tuna.

Foreign fishing vessels will also be kept out of parts of exclusive economic zones of some Pacific island nations.

The restrictions are expected to raise the price of tuna in markets in East Asia, North America and Europe.

But Glenn Hurry, the outgoing chairman of the WCPFC does not think consumers will see a substantial price hike right away.

"Probably won't mean a lot immediately for the market, because it's a three-year measure, it sort of cuts in at 10 percent a year," he said. "I don't expect the restriction to cause much problem for the countries, cause I think, they will just try to fish away from where they know juvenile bigeye are and reduce the amount of those in their mix."

Hurry adds that the new regulations will benefit the local economies of island states. It will mean less competition with foreign fishing boats for subsistence fishermen.