Eastern Pacific fisheries commission makes some progress toward protecting yellowfin and bigeye tuna, but only in the short term.

By Holly Koehler and Dr. Gala Moreno

February 15, 2017

Seven months ago, we attended what turned out to be the first in a series of IATTC Commission meetings tackling the important issue of effective conservation measures for bigeye and yellowfin tuna.

The 2016 stock assessments by IATTC staff indicated that yellowfin and bigeye tuna had been experiencing fishing mortality levels slightly below the maximum sustainable yield (MSY level) in recent years. However, operative capacity of the purse seine fleet as of April 2016 showed an increase of 11% over the previous three years. Such an increase in capacity will likely translate into overfishing of these stocks into the future, unless management measures are adopted to compensate for it.  

At the time, ISSF urged the Commission to adopt measures to avoid an increase in fishing mortality for all fleets. And we advocated that such measures could include extending the length of the purse seine fishery closure, and/or extending the time/area closure known as “El Corralito,” among other measures.

After a second meeting in October 2016 — where still no consensus could be reached — the IATTC met again last week to discuss a variety of proposals. These proposals included rolling the previous closure forward, catch limits, FAD limits, individual vessel quotas, and limits based on capacity.

Agreement … but for just one year …
Finally, seven months later, IATTC members reached agreement at last week’s gathering. They aligned to a total purse seine catch limit for yellowfin and bigeye by set type — meaning that there are no national allocations; once the total limit is reached, fishing by set type must stop for all — and to extend the previous time/area closure (the El Corralito) for one year. A proposal to limit the number of active FADs to 400 per vessel was not adopted.

While it is disappointing that the IATTC delayed taking action for seven months, we are relieved that consensus on a set of some measures was reached for these important stocks in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

But how effective will the 2017 measures be?
Now we must ask: How effective will these measures be for just 2017?

First, it is not clear how the total catch limit by set type will be monitored, even with 100% observer coverage for certain classes of scale purse seine vessels. Estimating species catch composition accurately onboard large-scale purse seine vessels is notoriously difficult because large volumes of tuna are processed very rapidly.

Second, given that there are no national allocations, the total catch limit will result in a “race to fish”: Most vessels will probably not choose the first closure period, thereby undermining the overall effect of the closure.

And third, the measure calls for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the 2017 measures as part of the 2017 stock assessments, which will be discussed in May at the IATTC Scientific Advisory Committee. It is highly unlikely that the impact of these measures can be evaluated that soon, a mere four months after their adoption.

Given these unanswered questions, and the measures for 2018 and beyond on the table for the Annual IATTC Commission meeting next July, ISSF is reserving judgment on the outcomes from last week’s meeting. 

One thing remains clear: Urgent action on tuna conservation is still needed. IATTC members must come to the 2017 annual meeting with clear proposals that implement the scientific advice and are effective and enforceable. And these actions should cover a time horizon longer than a year, with longer term sustainability in mind.

ISSF once again urges the IATTC to adopt effective measures to avoid an increase in fishing mortality for all fleets. Fishing nations and coastal States alike benefit from the Eastern Pacific fisheries and need to work cooperatively, in their collective interests, to make progress. We once again commit to work with our colleagues in reaching out to IATTC members on these critical matters in the intersessional period between now and the Commission Meeting in July.