Posted by Katie Matthews & Pablo Guerrero
26 June 2012
Last week world leaders met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the UN’s Conference on Sustainable Development. It brought a lot of attention to conservation issues but didn’t offer much definitive change. As the BBC’s Richard Black wondered, “What’s the point in flying negotiating teams halfway round the world, providing all the five-star hotels and limousines and security details that 130-odd heads of state and government demand, if all you end up with is a piece of paper that will bring little change…?”
This week the member nations of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) are meeting in La Jolla, California to address the management of tuna resources in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The IATTC, as the oldest tuna regional fishery management organization (RFMO) in the world, is certainly well established. The data collected in this region is comprehensive and the scientific advice is sound, which opens the door for nations to take some significant actions that go much further than “a piece of paper that will bring little change.”
Bigeye tuna in the eastern Pacific Ocean is currently being overfished and while the number of fish in the water may still be at a healthy level, it won’t remain that way for long. In order to reverse the trend scientists have recommended either extending the length of an existing fishery closure or reducing the catch of bigeye, through vessel-specific catch limits for example. Either way, member nations of the IATTC have clear scientific advice to work with.
Also clear is the need to set stock-specific reference points, as required by the Antigua Convention’s commitment to apply the Precautionary Approach. The IATTC scientific staff presented a number of options at the May SAC meeting, so the Commission should be primed for taking action. For example, member nations could consider the path chosen in April by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, which approved interim reference points with continuing evaluation by the scientific staff.
It’s nearly impossible to manage fishing methods for which you have no data, and that’s why it’s important for countries to develop and implement a FAD management plan. The IATTC scientific staff has shown leadership in the research and development of this fishing method’s best practices, and while there is still work left to do, a coordinated effort to understand what is currently happening on the water would be a giant step in the right direction.
The region also needs to make permanent the measure banning discards of tuna by purse seine vessels. In addition, requiring the retention of all catch – including bycatch – can lead to improved social-economic benefits for the region, as well as more complete data on the impact of fishing on the greater marine environment.
It’s not enough to manage tuna resources well if there are continued negative impacts on other species in the region. Which brings us to sharks. Next year the IATTC scientific staff will conduct an assessment of silky sharks in the eastern Pacific but we already know this population is in decline. The fishery needs clear measures for avoiding catching sharks, and guidance on how to handle and release them alive if they are caught. Reporting these interactions must be mandatory as well. The IATTC should also prohibit vessels from deliberately setting on vulnerable whale sharks.
The recent Rio+20 conference made one thing clear – inaction is unacceptable. Whether nations, industries or individuals are responsible, the majority of us are no longer willing to let a lack of will stand in the way of a sustainable future. The IATTC has shown decades of leadership. Nations should continue that tradition this week.
Katie Matthews is Vice President of Policy Development & Outreach for the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation and Pablo Guerrero serves as the Subregional Marine Coordinator for the WWF Northern Amazon Choco Darien Program.