Building the framework for the precautionary management approach

Posted by Victor Restrepo

November 9, 2015

As the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) gets ready for their 24th Regular Meeting in St. Julian’s, Malta from November 10-17, ISSF is committed to helping the region continue progress on fisheries management. The strategy for doing so prioritizes, but is not limited to, urging further improvement in the collection of FAD data, expanding the level of observer coverage on large-scale purse seine vessels, the use of electronic monitoring and reporting technologies, and advancing the development of Harvest Control Rules (HCRs) in order to increase sustainability in the region’s tuna fisheries.

Electronic monitoring and Reporting

Through the use of modern technologies to better monitor fishing activity at sea, there can be many winners: existing observer program coverage can be complemented, data needed for both scientific and compliance purposes are collected, and countries can improve monitoring and control and vessel owners can clearly observe what is happening aboard their boats.  ISSF has been actively engaged in developing guidelines for and implementation of Electronic Monitoring Systems (EMS) on tuna fishing vessels for several years now, and supporting trials of electronic reporting systems for observers on board.  Through such public-private partnerships, a number of tuna fleets around the world have begun implementing EMS on board their vessels both to improve the monitoring of their vessels, and to meet ISSF commitments that require large scale purse seine vessels to have 100% observer coverage on board.

E-monitoring can be made even more valuable by the existence of E-reporting, or real-time transmission of data to the States and RFMO. E-reporting mechanisms can improve the quality and timeliness of the data available for science, compliance and management.

Through the use of modern technologies like EMS and electronic reporting, States and RFMOs can better monitor fishing activity at sea, and continue meeting and improving fishing standards. ISSF looks forward to working with ICCAT members to develop standards for the implementation of these technologies so they may be implemented across the Atlantic tuna fishing fleets.

100% Observer Coverage on Large-Scale Purse Seine Vessels

Comprehensive observer coverage on tuna fishing vessels is a critical component of sustainable fisheries management for tropical tunas. ICCAT requires 100% observer coverage on tropical tuna purse seiners, only during the 2-month FAD moratorium.  Just as the IATTC and WCPFC have done, it is time for ICCAT to adopt a requirement for 100% observer coverage on large-scale purse vessels to cover the entire year.  This would be facilitated if ICCAT included a regional mechanism that provides that an observer from a coastal State national program (registered with the Secretariat) will be valid in other countries’ EEZs.

ISSF has developed a list of best practices and an online guidebook for Purse Seine Observer Coverage Training in order to assist RFMOs and States in developing or strengthening their national, regional or sub-regional human observer programs, which includes information on new electronic data collection and reporting tools.

ICCAT is lagging far behind the rest of the tuna RFMOs in this regard, and the management of the Atlantic tuna stocks is suffering because of it.  Without accurate and timely data, which observer programs can provide, and tools for effective MCS, even the strongest ICCAT recommendations for tuna management are unlikely to result in sustainable management.  ISSF urges ICCAT and its members to adopt a 100% observer coverage requirement for large-scale purse seine vessels in Malta.

Collection and Reporting of FAD Data

Setting on FADs accounts for nearly 40% of global tuna catches and 50% of global skipjack catches. ICCAT has made solid progress in recent years, with the 2013 adoption of amendments regarding FAD management and reporting, and the creation of a Working Group on FADs in 2014. However, there is still work to be done to improve FAD management in the region. ISSF recommends ICCAT take the following steps:

  • Adopt a marking scheme for identifying individual FADs.
  • Implement the provisions in Recommendation 11-01 on the use of non-entangling FADs. ISSF encourages all CPCs to take this step as soon as possible and to undertake research on the effectiveness of various FAD designs. This is a critical step in the reduction of shark mortality and reduction of other ecosystem impacts in the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Provide the FAD data as called for in Recommendation 11-01, and also a detailed analysis of FAD usage patterns and catch per effort analysis by their fleets operating in the Atlantic Ocean in order to enable a determination of changes in fishing capacity and likely impacts on stocks managed through ICCAT.
  • Participate in and support the work of the ad hoc FAD Working Group so that it can provide recommendations to the Commission in 2016.

Harvest Control Rules (HCRs)

HCRs are a set of well-defined management actions to be taken in response to changes in stock status with respect to target and limit reference points. ISSF endorses the application of the Precautionary Approach using clear target and limit reference points and HCRs, as called for by the UN Fish Stocks Agreement and by some RFMO Conventions. For ICCAT, 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, collected from FADs and EMS, 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.  We recognize that ICCAT has already held meetings of the Standing Working Group for Enhancing the Dialogue Between Fisheries Scientists and Managers to discuss HCRs and reference points. Now it’s time to put those conversations into action via an establishment of target and limit reference points and a HCR for North Atlantic albacore and other priority stocks.


The above strategy outlines the framework for a precautionary management approach that ICCAT is fully capable of achieving as evidenced by its progress the last few years.

Our organization believes that ICCAT is in a position to closely follow precautionary principles, but only if it better integrates science, data and monitoring into its management measures. The Commission’s 24th Regular Meeting in St. Julian’s is just the opportunity the region needs to make that a reality.

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