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Assessing RFMOs on bycatch management

Posted by Eric Gilman
20 September 2012

Eric Gilman, Ph.D., is a Marine Research Scientist with Hawaii Pacific University, College of Natural and Computational Sciences, and Senior Fisheries Scientist and Tuna Product Procurement Advisor with the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. He co-authored Performance Assessment of Bycatch and Discards Governance by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations.

A new IUCN report, Performance Assessment of Bycatch and Discards Governance by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations was launched earlier this month at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Korea. I co-authored the study with colleagues Kelvin Passfield and Katrina Nakamura. Since its release a few news services published summaries of the findings, focusing on implications for the tuna regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), and unfortunately these summaries focused on identified deficiencies. This blog provides a more balanced lay summary of the findings, with room to provide more detail, including the findings of another paper I authored titled Bycatch governance and best practice mitigation technology in global tuna fisheries, which was published in Marine Policy last year.

Fig. 1. Tuna RFMOs’ (red arrows) performance in governing bycatch relative to current best practice (relative to the highest performer, CCAMLR).

We included the five tuna RFMOs in the Performance Assessment report, finding the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission and Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission to be in the upper end of current best practice for governing bycatch, and the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, and Indian Ocean Tuna Commission to be roughly in the middle of the 13 assessed RFMOs (Fig. 1).

Based on the findings of the two above-mentioned studies, the tuna RFMOs have achieved mixed progress in governing adverse ecological effects of tuna fisheries – there’s been substantial progress for some governance elements, but with large deficits (opportunities for improvement) for others. (i) Half of minimum information needed to assess binding bycatch measures is collected by regional observers – data collection protocols need improvement so that the efficacy of bycatch measures can be determined. (ii) There’s 100% regional observer coverage of WCPO purse seiners operating on the high seas or multiple EEZs, and 100% of large seiners in the EPO, but there’s <10% PS coverage in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. There’s very low, less than 1%, regional coverage of pelagic longline fisheries, but increasing to 5% in some regions. Of the 5 tuna RFMOs, only IATTC and ICCAT provide for international exchange of observers in purse seine fisheries, a best practice to maximize data accuracy – under the IATTC-administered AIDCP, at least 50% of observers assigned to national fleets are IATTC observers, and ICCAT has international observers on large purse seiners.(iii) Ecological risk assessments have focused on assessing effects of fisheries on species groups relatively vulnerable to overexploitation, including bycatch of seabirds, sea turtles, marine mammals and elasmobranchs. Assessments have largely not evaluated broader and indirect effects of fishing operations.(iv) There’s been some progress in adopting bycatch control measures for vulnerable groups, but most fall short of best practices – including in the areas where they’re required, allowing relatively ineffective gear technology measures as options, and allowing exclusions for certain vessel classes. Almost all measures lack explicit performance standards – there’s no explicit benchmark to assess their efficacy. The tuna RFMOs largely don’t manage collateral effects of fishing. For example, the lack of regional restrictions on the number and density of drifting Fish Aggregating Devices (dFADs) and electronic buoys that can be deployed and fished at is a relevant example (it is hypothesized that drifting FADs may cause community-level effects– by altering the distributions, behavior, diet and school sizes of organisms that associate with the floating objects – see Laurent Dagorn et al.’s recent article in Fish and Fisheries for a comprehensive review and recommendations). A lack of explicit performance standards, in combination with inadequate observer coverage for all but large purse seiners in some regions, and incomplete data collection, hinders assessing measures’ efficacy. (v) About 60% of minimum surveillance methods are employed to assess compliance with binding bycatch measures. There’s limited and inconsistent reporting of surveillance effort, infractions, enforcement actions and outcomes of enforcement actions – this limits the ability to assess compliance, limits the ability to assess the efficacy of existing measures in meeting implicit objectives, and suggests that there is a culture of non-compliance within RFMOs. Thus, addressing tuna RFMO deficits in bycatch governance in monitoring, risk assessment, controls, surveillance, enforcement, and transparency, is needed to improve the ecological sustainability of tuna fisheries. Market-based mechanisms, including Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIPs) and retailer adoption of ecological measures in tuna product procurement specs, can be a catalyst for gradual improvements in RFMO governance.

RFMOs, including the 5 tuna RFMOs, have made nominal progress in transitioning to an ecosystem approach to fisheries management, including accounting for indirect effects of fishing mortality and unobservable losses. The prevailing basis for bycatch governance by tuna RFMOs continues to rely on single-species stock assessments and biological reference points for a small proportion of incidental market bycatch species, and mixed progress in controlling bycatch of species and groups relatively vulnerable to overexploitation. RFMOs are far from understanding and managing indirect and broad, ecosystem-level effects of fishing, including by developing control measures based on multispecies ecosystem-level models, indicators and thresholds. RFMOs have yet to implement measures to pursue balancing fishery removals across and within trophic levels at sustainable levels according to natural production capacities. Ultimately, RFMO transition to ecosystem-based management of marine resources will involve the holistic, integrated governance of all spatially explicit ocean activities across sectors, achieved by planning uses of marine areas to avoid and minimize conflicts, and to sustain ecosystem functioning and services, including the sustainable production of fishery resources.

There is large dispersion in scores of the five tuna RFMOs, with high variability in total scores and for individual governance elements. Tapping opportunities for augmented harmonization could help the tuna RFMOs to address deficits, benefiting from advances made by the others, such as by standardizing bycatch mitigation CMMs and observer data collection protocols, and sharing limited resources for monitoring, surveillance and enforcement across the tuna RFMOs’ convention areas.

Given sufficient investment, all species-level bycatch problems in longline and purse seine tuna fisheries likely have gear technology solutions. Continued gear technology R&D is needed to mitigate problematic bycatch. ISSF is coordinating global efforts for purse seine FAD bycatch research – longline R&D would benefit from similar coordination.

The two publications discussed here, both kindly made possible through support from the Lenfest Ocean Program, and other publications, are available from: http://bit.ly/EGilman.

I look forward to providing a presentation next month on mitigating direct and collateral adverse ecological effects of tuna fisheries at the Symposium on Mitigating Impacts of Fishing on Pelagic Ecosystems: Towards Ecosystem-based Management of Tuna Fisheries.


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