Commission Punts Tuna Conservation to October Meeting

Date: July 12, 2016

Holly Koehler is the Vice President for Policy and Outreach for the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), Dr. Gala Moreno is a research scientist with ISSF, and Pablo Guerrero is the eastern Pacific Ocean Tuna Coordinator for WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative. All three were in La Jolla, California, last month for meetings of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission.

Delegations recently gathered for the 90th Meeting of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). In advance of the meeting, ISSF and WWF spelled out three robust priorities for the commission; we challenged the IATTC to:

There were nearly 25 proposals on the table covering these issues, on which ISSF, WWF and other like-minded groups recommended IATTC take urgent action. And although the USA, Ecuador, Mexico, European Union, Costa Rica, Belize, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, and Guatemala put forth progressive proposals, the meeting ended with the adoption of only a handful of measures. The most critical issue – tuna conservation – was postponed until October when the Commission will have a special session.

3 Steps in the Right Direction – Harvest Strategies, FADs and Sharks

HCR Framework for Yellowfin, Skipjack and Bigeye Tunas
In 2014, the IATTC adopted interim target and limit reference points and an interim operational harvest control rule (HCR) for tropical tunas. The interim HCR simply limits fishing mortality to levels that do not exceed the level corresponding to the maximum sustainable yield (MSY); the actions to be taken when the limit reference point is approached or exceeded have not been defined in detail. Last year, the IATTC scientific 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 tabled a proposal to effectuate the staff’s recommendations.

This year, scientists again recommended the more complete interim HCR for adoption by the Commission. Ecuador submitted a proposal to implement this scientific advice for yellowfin, skipjack and bigeye tunas. ISSF and WWF strongly supported this recommended HCR and urged its adoption; we are therefore pleased that Ecuador’s proposal was adopted.

This action by IATTC paves the way for the implementation of a comprehensive harvest strategy that adjusts a fishery’s management system and ensures stocks are maintained at an optimal level. We will continue to ask that this HCR and alternatives be tested for robustness for the main uncertainties in the assessment — such as the stock-recruitment relationship — so that a permanent HCR can be adopted next.

ISSF and WWF were also gratified that delegations discussed the creation of a scientist-manager dialogue process, which have been established in IOTC, ICCAT and WCPFC. We look forward to these discussions advancing to a well-defined proposal for launching a scientist-manager dialogue at IATTC. Similar dialogues have also occurred as part of regional tuna management workshops organized in Sri Lanka, Panama and Ghana by the Common Oceans /ABNJ Tuna project — ISSF and WWF are two of its numerous partners and/or supporters. The processes established in IOTC, ICCAT and WCPFC, as well as the workshops organized by the Common Oceans project, have been instrumental in facilitating communication between scientists and decision-makers and in building understanding regarding harvest strategies and management strategy evaluations.

FAD Management
Setting on FADs accounts for nearly 40% of global tuna catches and 50% of global skipjack catches. So it is essential that nations gather and report specific FAD data to RFMOs in order to better monitor their usage and to establish a factual basis for their management. ISSF and WWF were disappointed that last year the IATTC delayed previously agreed upon FAD data collection requirements and the time table for FAD management recommendations. That’s why we are pleased with the adoption of amendments to the relevant FAD measure, as proposed by the European Union, that:

  1. Pull the reporting and management recommendation dates forward to 2018.
  2. Make the FAD management working group permanent and allow it to report directly to the Commission.
  3. Require that FAD data are submitted in a standardized format.

Protecting Sharks in Tuna Fisheries
ISSF and WWF applaud the leadership of Costa Rica, Belize, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, the European Union and the United States in proposing measures for the conservation of sharks, particularly silky sharks, in line with the recommendations of the IATTC Scientific Staff. Such measures have been proposed before without success. The last day of the IATTC meeting brought the adoption of the conservation measure for sharks, with a special emphasis on silky sharks, for 2017-2019. A positive step forward in holistic protection of the marine resources of the Easter Pacific Ocean, the measure includes data collection requirements, as well as limits on the bycatch and landing of silky sharks and the use of wire leaders (a better gear option for reducing shark bycatch in longline fisheries).

Falling Short: No to Landing Sharks with Fins Attached, Increased Longline Observer Coverage and Pacific Bluefin
Despite being tabled by Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama and the European Union, proposals requiring that sharks be landed with fins naturally attached were again denied at IATTC. 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.

Progress on increasing longline observer coverage was similarly blocked. IATTC, like all of the tuna RFMOs, have a five percent observer coverage requirement for longline vessels, but there is generally poor implementation of this minimum requirement. That’s why ISSF and WWF supported Mexico’s call for increasing the longline observer coverage requirement to 20 percent; unfortunately, this proposal was defeated.

ISSF and WWF call upon nations that object to these proposals to work together with other RFMO members on how to meaningfully address shark conservation and management and to ensure longline fisheries are effectively monitored and providing much needed data, such as through the use of electronic monitoring systems.

The Pacific Bluefin stock is especially in a dire state. IATTC failed to agree on an extension of the current management measure for 2017-2018. However, the did Commission agree to hold a meeting with the other RFMO that manages the stock – the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) – in September 2016. Such collaboration is crucial for the Pacific Bluefin tuna recovery.

On to October
ISSF and WWF are disappointed that more progress was not made at the meeting on needed additional conservation measures for yellowfin and bigeye tuna. The operative capacity of the purse seine fleet in the IATTC’s region is far in excess of that outlined in the 2005 Plan for the Regional Management of Fishing Capacity — this will result in overfishing unless IATTC adopts further management measures to compensate for it.

Urgent action on tuna conservation is needed in October, and ISSF and WWF urge the IATTC to adopt effective measures to avoid an increase in fishing mortality for all fleets. Fishing nations and coastal States alike benefit from the Eastern Pacific fisheries and need to work cooperatively, in their collective interests, to make progress. We once again commit to work with our colleagues in reaching out to IATTC members on these critical matters in the intersessional period between now and the Resumed Commission Meeting in October.


Read this post in SpanishCierto Progreso, Pero Grandes Cuestiones Aún por Resolver