Posted by Susan Jackson, Victor Restrepo & Pablo Guerrero

14 July 2015

Susan Jackson is the President of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, Dr. Victor Restrepo is the Chair of the ISSF Scientific Advisory Committee and Pablo Guerrero is the eastern Pacific Ocean Tuna Coordinator for WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative, based in Ecuador. All three were in Guayaquil, Ecuador for meetings of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission.

Delegations recently gathered in Ecuador for the 89th Meeting of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). There were close to 20 proposals on the table covering issues on which ISSF, WWF and other like-minded groups recommended IATTC take urgent action. Our priorities included action on tuna conservation measures for bigeye, yellowfin and bluefin; harvest control rules; FAD data collection and management; addressing fishing capacity; strengthening MCS tools and compliance; and increased protections for sharks and rays.

Although several delegations put forth progressive proposals on these issues, the meeting ended with the adoption of only a handful of measures – and some were even a step backward.

First, the good news

IUU

The United States has been working to amend the IATTC’s outdated IUU Vessel List resolution for a number of years. This year they were successful. The new amendments will modernize the relevant resolution in line with best practices, specifically by clarifying 1.) the listing and delisting procedures, 2.) the actions IATTC members must take regarding vessels included on the IUU Vessel List, and 3.) how to apply the ownership and control listing provisions to those vessels presumed to have carried out IUU fishing activities. This change makes the IATTC Vessel List process similar to the WCPFC’s measure. As such, the update increases the level of harmonization among tuna RFMOs and strengthens global efforts to combat IUU fishing activities amongst global and highly mobile fleets.

Capacity Management

The IATTC also adopted a much need amendment to its Resolution on the Regional Management of Fishing Capacity, clarifying the deadline for confirming the well volume for those vessels included in the Register (now set at 1 January 2017). Well volume is a critical measure for determining the carrying capacity of individual vessels or fleets of vessels. The amendment provides a window for determining the well volume of vessels and sets an end point for providing this information to the Secretariat. Without a set deadline, IATTC members may provide new information on well volumes at their discretion – thereby contributing to increases beyond the capacity limit set by the 2002 Resolution.

Rays

ISSF and WWF applaud the leadership of the European Union in proposing a prohibition on retention and requirements for safe handling guidelines for manta and devil rays, in line with the recommendations of the IATTC Scientific Advisory Committee in 2014 and 2015. These safe handling guidelines for rays can decrease mortality considerably. Through ISSF skippers workshops and skippers guidebooks we are actively promoting the wide use of these techniques – 700 captains and crew have attended ISSF workshops around the globe so far. We are very pleased that IATTC has adopted binding requirements that incorporate detailed safe release and handling procedures for rays – a first among tuna RFMOs.

Now, the not-so-good news

Harvest Control Rules

Last year, the Commission adopted interim target and limit reference points and an interim harvest control rule (HCR) for tropical tunas. This year, the IATTC scientific staff recommended the adoption of a more complete HCR that takes the limit reference points into account. Both ISSF and WWF strongly supported this recommended HCR and urged its adoption. But bureaucracy won out over common sense. Because there is no clear procedure for how to consider the staff’s recommendations, and because no delegation put forward a timely proposal to operationalize this sensible HCR recommendation, the IATTC took no action. Let’s make sure we do not miss another opportunity to get serious about fisheries management – we urge IATTC members to table proposals next year that will activate the scientific advice provided to the Commission.

FADs: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

ISSF and WWF are pleased that the IATTC joined the IOTC, ICCAT and WCPFC in establishing a working group on FADs and adopted a U.S. proposal for a FAD marking. This scheme will make it possible to link those data collected about specific FADs and the results for individual sets on FADs.

Unfortunately, the steep price for this marking scheme was a re-opening of the data collection and management recommendation provisions that had been adopted in 2013 (C-13-04 )– delaying their implementation by two and four years, respectively. While a FAD marking scheme is important, implementing the already-agreed FAD data and developing management recommendations is equally important, and it has now been delayed until 2017 for data collection and 2019 for management recommendations. Worse yet, the original resolution included options – such as beacon ID – that could have been used in the absence of a formal marking scheme, thus preventing the significant, unnecessary delay of the implementation of this measure.

By calling for more research and the development of recommendations by 2019, the new FAD proposal also introduces opportunities for serious delay in the implementation of the non-entangling FAD provisions. The original proposal had no such conditional provisions. For three years, ISSF and WWF have been advocating for the immediate use of non-entangling FAD designs, which have been shown to significantly reduce the entanglement of sharks and other non-target species. While other RFMOs like ICCAT and IOTC require the use of non-entangling FADs, IATTC now takes a step backwards in its failure to do so.

No Support for Shark Conservation or Increased Longline Observer Coverage

Once again, proposals and recommendations tabled by Costa Rica, the United States and the European Union on hammerhead and silky sharks and requiring that sharks be landed with fins naturally attached were not adopted. These proposals would have enhanced protections for sharks by strengthening the IATTC finning ban, facilitating improved data collection and compliance monitoring, and putting safeguards in place for vulnerable shark species. Most of the tuna RFMOs have a 5% observer coverage requirement for longline vessels, but the data show there is generally poor implementation of this minimum requirement. This is why ISSF and WWF supported Mexico’s call for increasing the longline observer coverage requirement to 20%. Unfortunately, this proposal was also defeated. ISSF and WWF call upon those nations that continue to object to these proposals, some of whom are deficient in meeting their data provision and 5% longline observer coverage requirements across tuna RFMOs, to work together with other RFMO members on how to meaningfully address shark conservation and management as opposed to simply blocking progress – before it is too late for shark populations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

No Support for Pacific Bluefin Recovery

ISSF and WWF are disappointed that the U.S. proposal for a recovery plan for the highly depleted stock of Pacific bluefin – a stock where the fishing mortality exceeds all reasonable proxies for FMSY – was also not adopted. Recognizing that the recovery of this stock may be further delayed if the current scenario of low recruitment continues, it is now critically important that the current IATTC catch limits for Pacific bluefin are strictly complied with and closely monitored. ISSF and WWF applaud Mexico’s voluntary initiative to reduce its allowable catch quota for 2016 and implement a catch document scheme. However, given the highly migratory nature of these tunas, cooperation on complementary management is essential for effective conservation and management of Pacific bluefin. ISSF and WWF call upon the WCPFC and IATTC to urgently collaborate in the management of Pacific Bluefin tuna through the conservation of both juvenile and adult stocks.

Compliance: Positive signs, but follow through needed

ISSF and WWF have been pleased with the announcements at the last three IATTC sessions that the Review of Implementation Committee report will contain more detail, including an annex compiling the areas of identified non-compliance and responses by members. Including such detail is in line with best practices in RFMO compliance committees and will enhance the credibility and transparency of the IATTC compliance assessment process. But previous pledges of more transparency in the Committee’s compliance report have yet to materialize. So, we will again be watching and waiting to see if the Committee’s report does include these important details on areas of identified non-compliance and member’s responses, as promised.

Fishing nations and coastal States alike benefit from the Eastern Pacific fisheries. Ultimately, coastal and fishing States need to work cooperatively and in their collective interests to make progress. In the wake of another IATTC annual meeting, ISSF and WWF staff commit once again to working with our colleagues and reaching out to IATTC members on our top priorities in the intersessional period. We look forward to collaborating on further outreach to WCPFC and ICCAT on a list of similar priorities as their 2015 annual meetings approach – all aimed at the long-term conservation and sustainable use of tuna stocks, reducing bycatch and promoting ecosystem health.

About the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF)
The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) is a global coalition of scientists, the tuna industry and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) — the world’s leading conservation organization — promoting science-based initiatives for the long-term conservation and sustainable use of tuna stocks, reducing bycatch and promoting ecosystem health. To learn more, visit https://iss-foundation.org/.