Posted by Susan Jackson, Victor Restrepo & Pablo Guerrero

23 July 2014

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 Lima, Peru for meetings of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission.

As the 87th Meeting of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) drew to a close last week in Lima, delegations were on the edges of their seats as proposals and revised drafts came up for debate in the closing hours of the meeting. The IATTC is the management body responsible for managing tuna resources in the eastern Pacific Ocean and it’s the world’s oldest. Many of the proposals covered issues that ISSF, WWF and other like-minded groups recommended IATTC take urgent action on including tuna conservation measures for bigeye, yellowfin and bluefin; development of harvest control rules and reference points; mandatory IMO numbers; and strengthening compliance and greater protections for sharks and rays.

Delegations worked throughout the week on a variety of proposals for these and other important issues that were before the Commission. While a number of proposals that ISSF and WWF consider important were not adopted – or were deferred to an Extraordinary Meeting of the Commission that is planned for October – the IATTC did agree on measures in three areas that are significant steps forward.

Harvest Control Rules and Reference Points

The Commission agreed to language in its meeting report directing the IATTC Staff to conduct Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE) work for northern albacore and tropical tuna stocks in the coming months. While both ISSF and WWF urged the Commission to take stronger action this year – including through the adopting of interim EPO species-specific target and limit reference points and the Staffs’ recommended Harvest Control Rules (HCRs) – the Commission directive for MSE work is positive and establishes a clear program of work on these important issues. Both ISSF and WWF will be following this issue closely and look forward to accelerated progress at the 2015 Annual Meeting based on these analyses.

IMO Numbers

IATTC joined the ranks of three other tuna RFMOsWCPFC, IOTC and ICCAT – regarding measures involving International Maritime Organization (IMO) numbers. This year, IATTC adopted a requirement for all eligible vessels to provide an IMO number in order to be on the IATTC Regional Vessel Register by 2016. In recent years, ISSF and its partners have spent a great deal of time appealing to tuna RFMOs and their member countries to require vessels to obtain a unique vessel identifier, such as an IMO number, and to provide that number to the RMFO. In fact, at the end of 2011, only 12 percent of large-scale purse seine vessels targeting tropical tuna had publicly available unique identifying numbers registered with the IMO. Today, close to 90 percent do. With this decision, IATTC fills a needed gap in this area – a big win for efforts to combat IUU fishing activities and manage global capacity.

VMS

Going into Lima, ISSF and WWF supported the proposals of the European Union on port State measures and reforming the IATTC Vessel Monitoring System (VMS). These monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) measures help to combat IUU activities on the water, prevent IUU catch from getting to markets, and ensure that all nations are playing by the same rules. While the port State measures proposal, once again, was not adopted, the IATTC did adopt much needed changes to its VMS measure. The IATTC program still has much room to improve to align with best practices for such programs, but this is a step in the right direction. ISSF and WWF will be working closely with all tuna RFMOs in the coming year to advocate for strengthened RFMO VMS programs – because even the best designed conservation measures don’t work if they aren’t effectively enforced on the water.

No Steps Forward = Continued Lack of Progress

We are concerned that the Commission continues to move slowly with regard to capacity management. The reduction of overcapacity in tuna fisheries is a pressing global problem. All tuna RFMOs need to address this serious threat. While IATTC is a step ahead of all tuna RFMOs by having a closed vessel registry ­– meaning no new vessels can be added to the region – this is merely a beginning. Member nations must now work toward ultimately reducing the number of vessels authorized to fish for tuna in the eastern Pacific, as current capacity exceeds the target level. It is clear that addressing the interests of developing States is an important part of any regional capacity management arrangement. Recently, ISSF – with participation by WWF, RFMO Secretariats, vessel operators, the tuna processing industry, developing and developed States, academia, the FAO and World Bank and others – hosted a workshop to start a dialogue among stakeholders on this issue. The workshop report can be accessed here: http://iss-foundation.org/resources/downloads/?did=522; we believe the workshop outcomes can contribute to progressing capacity management in the tuna RFMOs.

It is disappointing that, once again, proposals and recommendations that had been tabled by the IATTC Staff and the European Union on mobuild rays, silky sharks and requiring that sharks be landed with fins naturally attached were not adopted.

Finally, the lack of progress on a Pacific bluefin measure is particularly concerning. The last assessment and projections reiterate that the stock is highly depleted, that fishing mortality exceeds all reasonable proxies for Fmsy and that current management measures adopted by WCPFC and IATTC are insufficient to stop overfishing and allow the stock to rebuild. Headed into Lima, ISSF and WWF supported the Staff recommendation that commercial catches of Pacific bluefin in the EPO in 2014 be limited below 3,154t, which was the estimated commercial catch in 2013, and that the non-commercial catches in 2014 be limited below 221t.

For more on our priorities for the IATTC meeting, you can download the ISSF IATTC 87 position statement here and the WWF IATTC 87 position statement here.

Fishing nations and coastal States alike benefit from the Eastern Pacific fisheries. Ultimately, coastal and fishing states need to work cooperatively and in the collective interest to make progress. Now ISSF and WWF staff will roll up our sleeves and get to work supporting the follow through, and advocating for similar measures at the upcoming meetings of the WCPFC and ICCAT as well as the Extraordinary IATTC meeting this fall. Why? Because we also know how much fish matter.