A Preview of Priorities for Atlantic Ocean Tuna Fisheries
By: Dr. Victor Restrepo
Date: November 6, 2017

Last year, ISSF welcomed progress by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) on many fronts: maintaining the total allowable catch (TAC) for yellowfin and albacore tuna; advancing the development of harvest strategies; adopting stronger FAD management measures; and endorsing e-monitoring standards for purse seine vessels.

We also saw areas where ICCAT made little or no progress against science-based ISSF asks: requiring 100% observer coverage on large-scale purse seine vessels; increasing longline vessel observer coverage; and strengthening measures for shark conservation and tools for monitoring, control, and surveillance (MCS).

I have been engaged in tuna science and conservation in the Atlantic Ocean and beyond for more than two decades. While the pace of progress has quickened on some issues in this region recently, the devil is in the details … and among these details are effective implementation of adopted measures. 

As we prepare for another ICCAT annual meeting, to ensure the long-term sustainability of Atlantic tuna stocks, we must advocate not only for the adoption of science-based conservation and management measures, but also for improvements in their implementation. And governments, ship owners, processors, environmental NGOs, and all fishers in the Atlantic Ocean, regardless of gear type, must collaborate to this end.

With this context in mind, let’s explore ISSF’s priorities for ICCAT this year as we take a look at where we’ve been and where we’d like to go when it comes to improving management of Atlantic Ocean tuna fisheries.

Improved Implementation for Improved Tuna Conservation

Effective management measures are needed to ensure bigeye and yellowfin tuna catches are maintained at sustainable levels. 

According to ICCAT science committee (SCRS) estimates, the established catch limits for bigeye and yellowfin were exceeded in 2016 by 11% and 16%, respectively. Exceeding catch limits for overfished stocks worsens their status and hinders their rebuilding to healthy levels.

Unfortunately, the yellowfin catch limit is not allocated between fishing gears or nations, which makes it difficult to take corrective measures. This is an implementation gap that needs to be addressed.

Further, while all other tuna RFMOs have adopted tropical tuna catch retention measures for purse seine vessels, ICCAT has not. The discarding of tuna results in less accurate catch statistics and constitutes a waste of valuable food. Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire have tabled a proposal for prohibiting tuna discards in this fishery, and ISSF urges CPCs to support its adoption.


Recent ICCAT Action on Tuna Conservation ISSF Asks for ICCAT 2017 Annual Meeting
ICCAT agreed to maintain current TAC levels for these tuna species as recommended by the SCRS:
  • Yellowfin, at 110,000 tonnes
  • Bigeye, at 65,000 tonnes


Adopt stock-specific tuna management measures that are consistent with the scientific advice, allocate the yellowfin catch limit by gear and/or flag, and strengthen overall the management of tropical tuna fisheries to ensure compliance with catch limits.

Adopt a tropical tuna catch retention measure for the purse seine fishery.


FADs: Data Requirements Fall Short without Data Submission

In the Atlantic, FAD and log sets account for nearly 50% of tropical tuna catches. The good news is that since 2013, ICCAT has required the submission of FAD data. The bad news is that only a few nations submit the required data. In fact, FAD data covering 2016 has been reported for only 3 of 11 flags that operate purse seine vessels in the Atlantic, and many of these submissions were incomplete. These gaps in data hinder regional analyses by ICCAT scientists. 

ICCAT has also required the use of non-entangling FAD designs since January 2016 to reduce the entanglement of sharks and turtles and address FAD-fishing ecosystem impacts. But the lack of data reporting makes it difficult to assess compliance with this critical requirement — another implementation gap that must be rectified urgently by ICCAT.


Recent ICCAT Action on FADs ISSF Asks for ICCAT 2017 Annual Meeting
Required the submission of specific FAD data for use by the SCRS.

Required the use of non-entangling FAD designs since January 2016 and encouraged research into biodegradable FADs.

Immediately address the serious gaps that continue to exist in compliance with FAD data reporting, such as through requiring a combination of clearer definitions and clearer instructions on required data and submission forms.

Ensure that its requirement for non-entangling FADs is being met, and promote research into biodegradable FADs.


Observer Coverage and Electronic Monitoring: Meeting Data Collection, Compliance, and IUU-Fighting Potential  

Comprehensive observer coverage on vessels is a critical component of sustainable fisheries management for tropical tunas. It is essential to data collection, promoting compliance, and combatting IUU fishing activities. ICCAT requires 100% observer coverage on tropical tuna purse seiners, but only during the time/area FAD moratorium; for the remainder of the year and for longline fisheries, the observer requirement is only 5%.

All large-scale purse seine vessels should have 100% observer coverage on every fishing trip to ensure the collection of critical data on bycatch and discards. ICCAT scientists have highlighted that the current 5% observer coverage requirement is inadequate to provide reasonable estimates of total bycatch.

Distant water fishing nations and coastal States alike benefit from Atlantic tuna fisheries — and they have the responsibility to cooperate and the duty to take action. 


Recent ICCAT Action on Observer Coverage and Electronic Monitoring ISSF Asks for ICCAT 2017 Annual Meeting
Requires 100% observer coverage on purse seine vessels but only during the time/area FAD moratorium.

Requires 5% coverage for the remainder of the year for purse seine and other gear types, such as longline.

Endorsed guidelines for e-monitoring for purse seine vessels.

Extend the 100% observer coverage on large-scale purse seine vessels to cover the entire year.

Increase the minimum level of observer coverage to 20% for all other major fishing gears, and strengthen CPC compliance by identifying and sanctioning non-compliance through the Compliance Committee.

Develop binding measures to ensure the safety of human observers.

Progress the development of e-monitoring standards for longline vessels as soon as possible.

To strengthen transparency of these fishing operations, develop measures to require electronic monitoring for large-scale purse seine and longline vessels.


Your Support Needed

As I head off to the ICCAT meeting, I hope that you will join in our efforts to urge progress on these priorities by advocating for action on these issues before and during the upcoming meeting in Morocco.

You can do this by meeting with the national delegations that will be tabling proposals and making the decisions at the meeting, with vessel and industry representatives that attend as part of these national delegations and who exercise influence over the positions the governments take, and with tuna processors, retailers, and buyers to encourage them to also advocate for concrete action at ICCAT that ensures a sustainable supply of tuna that is harvested within applicable limits and in compliance with all ICCAT regulations. 

We will continue to work cooperatively with all ICCAT delegations to achieve positive results for the tunas and ecosystems of the Atlantic Ocean.

For more details on ISSF’s asks of ICCAT this year, or to share our full 2017 position statement with your colleagues and delegates, access the statement here, available in 3 languages.