ISSF and WWF set priorities for the upcoming IATTC meeting

Date: June 21, 2016

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 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Smart Fishing Initiative.

Beginning June 27, 2016, delegates from around the world will gather in La Jolla, CA, for the annual Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) meeting, and we’re looking forward to attending on behalf of ISSF and WWF. IATTC is the world’s oldest regional fishing management organization (RFMO), overseeing tuna resources in the eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO).

IATTC has had measures in place for some time to manage fishing effort and capacity, requiring observer coverage on large-scale purse seine vessels and comprehensive data collection. But all tuna RFMOs and fishing nations must continuously assess and strengthen their efforts to manage vital tuna resources — and keep pace with evolving international standards and market expectations.

With that in mind, ISSF and WWF see three essential priorities for the upcoming IATTC meeting.


Priority 1: Fully Implement Harvest Strategies Reference Points and Harvest Control Rules

With diligent management, overfishing should not be an issue. All of the EPO tuna stocks would benefit from well-defined reference points and pre-determined harvest control rules (HCRs).

The idea behind this is simple:

  • Managers, with the help of scientists, agree to a set of objectives to be achieved and limits to be avoided.
  • The status of the stock with respect to these reference points is used to determine future management actions. Pre-agreed upon measures allow for immediate implementation of corrective action.

Politics can prevent or delay agreement on necessary management actions. A pre-determined, comprehensive harvest strategy provides a HCR that adjusts a fishery’s management system and would ensure stocks never are overfished and are maintained at an optimal level.

In 2014, the IATTC adopted interim target and limit reference points and an interim operational HCR for tropical tunas. The interim HCR simply limits fishing mortality to levels that do not exceed the level corresponding to the MSY; the actions to be taken when the limit reference point is approached or exceeded have not been defined in detail. In 2015, the staff proposed a more complete harvest control rule based on the interim limit and target reference points, but it was not adopted because no delegation offered a timely proposal to effectuate the staff’s recommendations. This year, scientists are again recommending the more complete interim HCR for adoption by the Commission. Therefore, we are pleased to see the proposal by Ecuador on a HCR for tropical tunas that implements this scientific advice.

ISSF and WWF Recommendation: At this month’s meeting, we urge IATTC to (1) adopt the more complete interim HCR recommended by the scientific staff and as proposed by Ecuador and (2) require that it be tested for robustness for the main uncertainties in the assessment, such as the stock-recruitment relationship so a permanent HCR can be adopted in a future meeting.


Priority 2: Adopt Measures for Tuna Conservation and Fishing Capacity Management

WWF and ISSF applaud the steps IATTC has already taken to manage yellowfin and bigeye tuna stocks in the EPO.

However, although the IATTC is the only tuna RFMO with a closed vessel registry and vessel capacity limit and allocation, its current fishing capacity is well in excess of the overall limit and therefore of resource productivity. The operative capacity of the purse seine fleet as of April 2016, for example, increased by 11% over the previous three years — to 255,972 cubic meters (m3) of well volume, which was already in excess of the target capacity level of 158,000m3 outlined in the 2005 Plan for the Regional Management of Fishing Capacity. This capacity increase will translate into overfishing unless IATTC adopts further management measures to compensate for it.

ISSF and WWF Recommendation: We urge IATTC to adopt measures to avoid an increase in fishing mortality for all fleets. Extending the length of the purse seine fishery closure, and/or extending the time/area closure known as “El Corralito” are measures to consider. IATTC must also implement the recommendations from its 2014 Technical Experts Workshop on the Capacity of the Tuna-fishing Fleet in the EPO. These recommendations strengthen the 2005 Plan for the Regional Management of Fishing Capacity and reduce the current capacity that is in excess of resource productivity and the limit identified in the 2005 plan. IATTC must not approve additional capacity until such capacity is reduced to the scientifically determined optimum level.

Note on Pacific Bluefin tuna: Pacific Bluefin tuna is another matter — the stock is in a dire state. So long as there is not a decrease in recruitment levels, the stock could grow slowly, given projections based on the management measures adopted by both IATTC and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

At a minimum, IATTC should extend the current Pacific Bluefin measure into the future and require that Pacific Bluefin stock be assessed annually and monitored closely. IATTC should also encourage WCPFC to adopt additional measures to decrease mortality on mature bluefin.


Priority 3: Strengthening MCS and Compliance with Measures

To be effective, fisheries management needs measures that are science-based, effectively enforced and complied with by all nations.

Monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) measures help to combat Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated fishing (IUU) activities, prevent IUU catch from getting to markets and ensure all nations are playing by the rules. We strongly support the European Union proposal on Port State Measures.

The IATTC must also make an effort to improve transparency surrounding the review of members’ and cooperating non-members’ (CNM) compliance with their obligations.

Finally, observer coverage is a fundamental MCS tool for fisheries management. Observers promote conservation measure implementation for tuna and other species, such as sharks, seabirds and sea turtles, and they collect fisheries data essential for stock assessments.

IATTC has set a high bar for observer coverage in the large-scale purse seine fishery – only the IATTC and WCPFC have 100% coverage for these vessel types. However, on longline vessels and small-size classes of purse seine vessels, observer coverage is either inadequate or absent.

ISSF and WWF Recommendation
: We urge the IATTC to (1) make public members’ responses to identified non-compliance and (2) include details on member and CNM non-compliance in the Review Committee report. And IATTC should adopt scientific staff and Scientific Advisory Committee recommendations to:

  • Increase observer coverage on longline vessels to 20% over a five-year period
  • Strengthen compliance with the existing 5% longline observer coverage requirement, by identifying and sanctioning non-compliance through the Review Committee
  • For purse seine vessels, IATTC capacity class 4 and 5 vessels, require 100% observer coverage (human or electronic) where not already required

We are pleased to see the European Union’s proposal for silky shark conservation includes a call to establish observer coverage for purse seine vessels of less than 364 metric tons carrying capacity, and to evaluate the use of electronic monitoring systems. 


Additional Consideration: Advance Shark Conservation Efforts
Speaking of sharks, the IATTC could make some important progress this year. RFMOs can and should take stronger and more comprehensive steps to conserve and manage shark populations.

ISSF and WWF Recommendation: We urge the IATTC to adopt the shark conservation and management proposals tabled by the United States, Costa Rica and other co-sponsors and the European Union that implement staff recommendations, in particular for silky shark and the hammerhead shark, and require that all sharks be landed with fins naturally attached.

Fishing nations and coastal states alike benefit from EPO fisheries — they have the responsibility to cooperate and the duty to take action. So, we’re looking forward to reporting back on some substantial progress after the meeting next week. ISSF and WWF will continue to work cooperatively with all IATTC delegations to achieve positive results for the tunas and ecosystems of the eastern Pacific Ocean.

Why? Because fish matter.


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