By Holly Koehler and Victor Restrepo

1 December 2016

Last month, ahead of the November 14-21 International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) annual meeting in Portugal, ISSF shared a position statement and a blog post articulating our observations and policy recommendations for the Commission—guided, as always, by the advice of the ICCAT Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (SCRS) and our own scientific research and analyses.

After the annual meeting, we are mostly encouraged by what was decided and discussed. Yet, again this year, ICCAT did not grapple with—or make headway on—some issues critical to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Atlantic’s tuna resources.

Here is a recap of the yearly meeting’s clear “wins,” necessary steps toward other wins, and lost opportunities.

Positive Decisions for Tuna Stock Sustainability
As ISSF has been advocating, ICCAT agreed to maintain current Total Allowable Catch (TAC) levels for these tuna species as recommended by the SCRS:

  • Yellowfin, at 110,000 tonnes
  • Southern Atlantic Albacore and Northern Atlantic Albacore, at 24,000 tonnes and 28,000 tonnes, respectively

We applaud ICCAT for holding firm to these TAC levels, which is essential to prevent overfishing and maintain these stocks at healthy levels.

In addition, the Commission passed measures to strengthen and streamline its compliance assessment process and to develop a scheme of responses to non-compliance. These are very important results that ISSF has been working to achieve in tuna RFMOs for some time. Robust and transparent processes to assess compliance—and also to address implementation gaps—are vital to effective RFMO governance and public confidence in such international systems.

And ICCAT’s revised tropical tuna measure now requires better data reporting from and monitoring on supply vessels, which is also something ISSF has been advocating the tuna RFMOs to do. Supply vessel activities related to drifting FADs increase the efficiency of the purse seiner by reducing the time a vessel needs to search for or maintain FADs. And right now, these supply vessel activities are not being assessed or monitored adequately.

Additional ICCAT Steps in the Right Direction
Other changes ISSF had recommended were also on the table for deliberation, and we’re pleased to say there was movement on several key issues.

First, ICCAT is making good progress on its Harvest Strategy processes, which now have a timetable. ICCAT’s Standing Working Group to Enhance Dialogue Between Fisheries Scientists and Managers (SWGSM) will meet again next year, and harvest control rules (HCR) elements for Northern Atlantic Albacore tuna will be tested via management strategy evaluations (MSEs).

The European Union, together with Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, proposed a total retention policy for tropical tunas that did not gain consensus at the annual meeting in Portugal. But the SCRS was asked to provide data for consideration and potential adoption next year, indicating that the Commission recognizes the importance of crafting and implementing such a policy, which should also address bycatch species in the context of food security and monitoring.

Many of ICCAT’s FAD Working Group recommendations are now included in either the tropical tuna measure or the terms of reference for the group’s meeting next year for implementation.

And fourth, ICCAT has taken steps to develop e-monitoring and e-reporting standards, an important move towards introducing new technologies for fisheries monitoring. Notably, the new observer measure accepts the proposed guidelines for purse seiners and tasks the SCRS with developing additional guidelines for other gears as appropriate.

Missed Policymaking Opportunities on Urgent Issues
On the other side of the equation, the Commission postponed discussion—or failed to debate it altogether—on a number of burning issues.

For starters, a requirement for 100% observer coverage on large-scale purse seine vessels, to cover the entire year, was not adopted. IATTC and WCPFC have such a requirement, and it is time ICCAT followed suit.

Increasing the minimum level of longline observer coverage to 20% was tabled, as was a proposal to strengthen the ICCAT Transshipment Recommendation.

Regarding illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU) activities, ICCAT did not consider any changes to strengthen the IUU Vessel List process. Neither did the Commission adopt additional needed amendments to continue to modernize its vessel monitoring system (VMS) measure.

Roadmap for Future Discussion
While ISSF had asked and hoped for more and deeper progress on the range of important issues facing ICCAT, we are pleased with those wins and roadmaps for future discussion that were adopted.

We commit to continue working with our NGO and industry colleagues and with ICCAT Contracting and Cooperating non-Contracting Parties on these remaining critical matters in the intersessional period between now and 2017 Commission meeting.