Improvements to tuna measures, including harvest control rules, and more progress on FAD science are a must at this year’s IATTC meeting

By Gala Moreno

June 28, 2017

It was merely a few months ago that we attended the last in a series of extraordinary meetings of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) — gatherings convened to address unfinished business from the 2016 Commission’s meeting.

As we prepare for the 2017 IATTC meeting in Mexico City next month, it is our hope such protracted negotiations will not be necessary, and that the Commission will take responsible and productive action in managing all aspects of the region’s fisheries.

Measures for Tuna, Including HCRs

In a blog published at the time, we welcomed the consensus reached on measures for important Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) stocks at the February 2017 extraordinary IATTC meeting — namely, the protection of bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks. But we also questioned the ability to determine the effectiveness of such measures given the scarcity of data, which is due to many factors.

That’s why we’re again issuing a call for effective conservation measures for key tuna species. It’s critical that such measures are adopted with long-term sustainability in mind — that is, with a time horizon longer than one year, the time frame that was agreed to in February 2017.

To rebuild the Eastern Pacific Ocean yellowfin tuna stock and ensure bigeye tuna fishing mortality is maintained at sustainable levels, governments, ship owners, processors, environmental NGOs, and all fishers in the EPO, regardless of fishing gear, must join efforts.

Last year, IATTC did adopt a more complete interim harvest control rule for yellowfin, biegeye and skipjack. But these harvest control rules or HCRs — a set of well-defined management actions to be taken in response to changes in tuna stock status with respect to target and limit reference points — still must be tested for robustness based on the main uncertainties in the assessment, such as the stock-recruitment relationship.

Consensus on a set of measures needs to be reached for these important stocks in the EPO based on the recommendations by the IATTC staff and science committee. IATTC members must come to the 2017 annual meeting with clear proposals that implement the scientific advice and are effective and enforceable.

On FADs: Science Leading the Way

Fish Aggregating Devices or FAD sets account for nearly 40% of the global tuna catch. This method of fishing must therefore be managed just as any other method in the interest of long-term sustainability of tuna fisheries. So it is encouraging that IATTC established an ad hoc FAD working group that reports directly to the Commission. In addition, the high level of attendance by IATTC members at the recent Joint Tuna RFMO FAD Working Group in Madrid shows that the Commission is taking FAD management seriously.

And the IATTC FAD group is making progress. The group presented a FAD research plan to the IATTC Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC). Experts from diverse fields — fishing technology, bycatch mitigation and stock assessment — and from the three oceans created the research plan and priorities. ISSF is pleased that the IATTC SAC recommended that the Working Group on FADs, in collaboration with the SAC and the Commission staff, develop a research and implementation roadmap based on this research plan. A roadmap rooted in science is the best way to guide implementation of IATTC FAD management measures. We hope that the Commission will continue supporting the initiatives of this group, adopting its recommendations at its upcoming meeting.

Indeed, scientific research and analysis both at-sea and in the lab have identified many best practices when it comes to mitigating bycatch in tuna fisheries. IATTC members have adopted many of these best practices. But some key actions have yet to be addressed by IATTC regarding FADs, especially incomplete FAD data collection. Using biomass data collected by echo-sounder buoys at FADs to obtain independent indices of tuna abundance would enable a more comprehensive understanding of the status of tropical tuna stocks and, ultimately, more comprehensive FAD monitoring and management. IATTC should explore how to make such data available for scientific purposes, with sufficient time lags to avoid confidentiality concerns.

Fundamental Data Still Lacking

Tuna stock assessment relies on the data coming from the fishery. To achieve the quantity and quality of data needed for well-informed management, it is time to extend the 100% observer coverage, required of Class 6 purse seiners since the 1990s, to smaller vessels. Longline fleets should increase their observer coverage rates to 20%, as recommended by the IATTC scientific staff. It is disappointing to see that despite continued recommendations by IATTC staff on these points, poor data collection and submission persists.

Further, electronic monitoring systems (EMS) have been proven effective in many longline and purse seine pilots and have been adopted for monitoring fisheries in some regions. Thanks to many collaborative EMS pilots and analyses, the practice of electronic monitoring has evolved beyond the point of assessing its feasibility to the point of implementation. EMS data can and should be used effectively as a complement to human observer programs. Therefore, there is no reason to delay improving data collection through such technologies.

Fishing nations and coastal states alike benefit from EPO tuna fisheries — they have the responsibility to cooperate and the duty to take action. We hope you will join in our efforts to urge these actions and are looking forward to reporting back on some substantial progress after the meeting next month. We will continue to work cooperatively with all IATTC delegations to achieve positive results for the tunas and ecosystems of the Eastern Pacific Ocean.