Priorities for this Year’s IATTC Annual Meeting

Posted by Pablo Guerrero & Holly Koehler

15 June 2015

Holly Koehler is the Vice President for Policy and Outreach for the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, and Pablo Guerrero is the Eastern Pacific Ocean Tuna Coordinator for WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative, based in Ecuador.

Next week, delegates from around the world will gather in Guayaquil, Ecuador for the annual the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) Commission Meeting. This management body is responsible for managing tuna resources in the eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO), and it’s the world’s oldest. Best practices like 100% observer coverage on certain purse seine vessels and comprehensive data collection have been the norm here for some time, and that makes the IATTC a leader in certain areas. However, as is the case for all tuna RFMOs, fishing nations must continue to improve and strengthen their efforts to manage their region’s vital resources to keep pace with evolving international standards and market expectations.

Tuna Conservation

WWF and ISSF recognize the steps the IATTC has already taken to manage yellowfin and bigeye tuna stocks in the Eastern Pacific. While this effort shows signs of working, and updated assessments show that neither stock is being overfished, the spawning biomass for the yellowfin and bigeye stocks is close to the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) level. Further, there is considerable uncertainty in these results because they are highly sensitive to assumptions, such as the use of a stock-recruitment relationship. Considering uncertainties in the assessments and likely increases in fishing capacity and floating object-directed effort, ISSF and WWF urge the IATTC to monitor the situation closely and be prepared to implement stronger measures in the future.

Pacific bluefin tuna is another matter. The last assessment and projections reiterate that the stock is highly depleted, that fishing mortality exceeds all reasonable proxies for FMSY or maximum rate of fishing mortality. And the recovery of the stock may be further delayed if the current scenario of low recruitment continues, which is heavily reliant on a major adult cohort in the population. Complementary conservation measures adopted by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission calling for reductions in catch for Pacific bluefin tuna of <30 kg in size are noted, but conservation of spawning stocks should also be implemented. WWF and ISSF strongly support the staff’s recommended catch limits for Pacific bluefin in the EPO as outlined in C-14-06, but encourage close monitoring of fisheries and catch and completion of a revised stock assessment for Pacific bluefin in early 2016. In addition, we urge the IATTC and WCPFC to collaborate in the management of Pacific bluefin tuna through the balanced conservation of both juvenile and adult stocks.

Reference Points and Harvest Control Rules

With the right management, overfishing should never be a problem to begin with. All of the region’s tuna stocks would benefit from well-defined reference points and pre-determined harvest control rules (HCRs). The idea behind this is simple – scientists use the most recently available data to determine how much tuna can be fished from each stock, and at what point that fishing needs to slow down. Fishing nations can use those reference points to determine what must happen automatically if a stock reaches its limit point. Since RFMOs only meet once a year and sometimes politics prevents or delays agreement on necessary actions, a trigger to adjust the management system ensures stocks never reach an overfished state.

WWF and ISSF applaud the steps taken by the IATTC in 2014 to adopt interim target and limit reference points and an interim HCR for tropical tunas. This year, we are urging the Commission to adopt the Staff’s recommended harvest control rules with specific timelines for reductions to target FMSY and rebuilding timeframes, should they become necessary. In addition – because we recognize that uncertainties exist – we urge the Commission to direct that the HCRs and reference points be tested for robustness to the main uncertainties in the assessment, such as the stock-recruitment relationship.

On Capacity  

You have all heard the phrase: “Too many boats chasing too few fish.” While IATTC does lead all tuna RFMOs in having a closed vessel registry ­– meaning no new vessels can be added to the region – this is just the first step. Member nations must now work toward ultimately reducing the number of vessels authorized to fish for tuna in the eastern Pacific. We congratulate the IATTC for holding its Technical Experts Workshop on the Capacity of the Tuna Fishing Fleet in the Easter Pacific last year, and ISSF was pleased to participate. ISSF and WWF strongly support the Workshop recommendations for strengthening the 2005 Plan for the Regional Management of Fishing Capacity and urge the IATTC to implement them to reduce the current capacity that is well in excess of resource productivity. We also encourage the IATTC to consider the outcomes of the 2014 ISSF Workshop on the transfer of fishing capacity from developed to developing countries in its capacity management discussions. The Workshop report can be accessed here.

FAD Management

ISSF and WWF recognize the substantial progress made by the IATTC in Resolution C-13-04 regarding FAD management and reporting. ISSF also applauds those IATTC fleets that have begun providing FAD data. To progress the adoption of science-based FAD management measures, ISSF and WWF urge all nations to provide those FAD data this year, as called for in the Resolution, and to implement the use of non-entangling FAD designs to reduce the incidence of entanglement of bycatch species. This is a critical step in the reduction of shark mortality and other ecosystem impacts in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

We also encourage industry to authorize the sharing of FAD buoy position data with the IATTC Secretariat for scientific analyses, with a time lag of four months to protect the owner’s proprietary information. Finally, we fully support the 2015 SAC recommendation that the IATTC convene a meeting on FADs and FAD impacts with scientists and stakeholders, and we urge the Commission to establish such a working group as ICCAT, WCPFC and the IOTC have done. 

Protecting Sharks and Other Non-target Species 

In the area of sharks and bycatch, the IATTC could make some important progress. Sharks are in trouble around the globe, and the EPO is no exception. RFMOs can and should take stronger and more comprehensive steps to conserve and manage shark populations. ISSF and WWF urge the IATTC to adopt the proposals tabled by Costa Rica requiring that sharks be landed with fins naturally attached. We also support the recommended best handling practices for mobulid rays and urge the Commission to adopt the 2015 scientific staff’s precautionary recommendations to conserve silky sharks and its recommendation that CPCs submit data to allow ecological risk analysis for the main species of pelagic elasmobranchs impacted by EPO fisheries. Additionally, longliners should also be using mitigation measures to protect threatened seabirds, something three other tuna RFMOs have already required. Finally, the IATTC should adopt the recommendations of staff on the handling of sea turtles in longline fisheries.

Transparency and Compliance

Finally, the IATTC must improve its transparency regarding the review of compliance by members with their obligations to the Commission. In addition, further improvements are needed to strengthen the IATTC’s monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) tools, such as its vessel monitoring systems (VMS) and IUU Vessel List measures. ISSF and WWF are again disappointed that the 2014 Report of the Review Committee does not include a summary of each Member’s compliance information, as we understood was agreed in Lima last year. We urge the IATTC to increase the transparency of its compliance assessment process by making public the responses from members to areas of identified non-compliance and include in the Review Committee report details regarding each Member and CNM’s areas of non-compliance, and its recommendations to address such non-compliance. We also request that the IATTC set clear milestones for improving compliance by requiring member states to submit a compliance action plan for identified infractions, and begin discussing how the Commission will respond to repeated and significant instances of non-compliance.

To strengthen the IATTC’s MCS tools, we urge the IATTC to continue to reform its satellite-based VMS by amending C-14-02 to ensure that VMS data can be available to the Secretariat and be used for scientific or compliance purposes and reform C-05-07 so the IUU Vessel listing process is in line with best practices. Such best practices entail including provisions for intersessional decision-making; making clearer delisting procedures; expanding the type of admissible information and harmonizing the criteria constituting IUU fishing across tuna RFMOs.


Fishing nations and coastal States alike benefit from these fisheries and as a result they have the responsibility to cooperate and act in the collective interest, and with that duty comes the power to take action. So, here’s to action next week in Ecuador. ISSF and WWF will continue to working cooperatively with all IATTC delegations during the week’s meetings to achieve positive results for the tunas and ecosystems of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Why? Because fish matter.