Posted 6 May 2015

Claire Van der Geest is Strategic Policy Advisor for ISSF, Jerry Scott is a member of the ISSF Scientific Advisory Committee and Wetjens Dimmlich is Indian Ocean Tuna Programme Manager at World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF).

Constructive engagement from all parties at the 2015 IOTC session resulted in moderate improvement on some fronts, including data provision and target and limit reference points. But there is more work to be done – the IOTC vessel monitoring system (VMS) program lacks a number of important elements that are hallmarks of best-practice programs found in other RFMOs. And challenges continue with data provision and compliance with IOTC conservation measures. ISSF and WWF are committed to continuing to work with all IOTC members to improve the sustainable management of the Indian Ocean’s tuna fisheries on which so many rely.

Tuna Conservation: Progress made on Reference Points

ISSF and WWF welcome the incremental progress made toward the establishment of reference points at this year’s IOTC annual session. In adopting Resolution 15/10, the Commission based upon scientific advice, has agreed – in cases where robust MSY-based estimates are not available – that proxies based on biomass depletion models be used to provide advice and recommendations on the status of IOTC species. Importantly, Resolution 15/10 paves the way for significant steps in future years including through the ongoing Science-Management Dialogue (Resolution 14/03), which will continue to increase understanding and awareness of the use of harvest control rules in fisheries management.

WWF and ISSF are optimistic that this debate signaled a strengthened willingness of IOTC members to continue to move toward the adoption and implementation of species-specific harvest control rules in the near term. We continue to urge the active engagement by both scientists and managers in these important discussions.

Combating IUU: Strengthening the IOTC Vessel Monitoring System

The agreement to expand the application of the existing IOTC VMS Resolution from vessels greater than 15 meters to all vessels on the high seas is a significant step forward (Resolution 15/03). ISSF and WWF note that the majority of vessels listed on the IOTC IUU Vessel List are below 15 meters in length, which underscores the importance of VMS in the fight against IUU fishing and as a tool for monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) in the effective management of fisheries.

However, further reforms to strengthen the IOTC VMS program must be undertaken to support robust MCS efforts throughout the IOTC Convention Area. For example, VMS programs should ideally cover the entirety of an convention area and centralize data that can be made available for scientific and compliance purposes.

You can learn more about VMS best practices by reviewing the ISSF Technical Report A Survey Of RFMO Vessel Monitoring Systems And Set Of Best Practices: http://iss-foundation.org/resources/downloads/?did=560).

Data Collection: The Key to Effective Management

When it comes to identifying how to best manage fisheries, establishing effective conservation measures is impossible without accurate catch and effort data from vessels fishing in a specific region. That’s why we are pleased that the Commission agreed to amend the existing resolutions on catch and effort data (Resolution 15/01) by requiring reporting of silky shark catches by longline vessels.

But establishing such rules is only half the battle. ISSF and WWF must again stress the need for IOTC members to actually provide accurate and timely catch and effort data for all fisheries to the Commission. Due to the failure of IOTC members to comply with their data reporting obligations, the current lack of catch and effort data available for IOTC stock assessments generates significant uncertainty regarding the stock status and future prospects for the stocks.

FAD Management

IOTC agreed to limit the permissible number of drifting FAD deployments, but it is uncertain if the limit chosen represents some optimal level or not. It is extremely important that all IOTC members provide complete data on FAD utilization, consistent with Resolution 13/08.   

These data are essential to supporting the work of the newly formed FAD Working Group and to ascertain if the FAD limit is reasonable, as well as the ability of the IOTC Science Committee to provide factual and science-based FAD management advice. 

We are pleased that the IOTC joined the WCPFC and ICCAT in establishing a FAD Management Working Group (Resolution 15/08) that is tasked with assessing and advising on FAD use, monitoring and impacts. We look forward to the Scientific Committee providing scientific advice on additional FAD management options for consideration by the Commission in 2016, in accordance with Resolution 13/08.

Budget and Resources

ISSF and WWF are concerned with the increasing budgetary constraints facing the IOTC. The failure of some IOTC members to pay their annual membership contributions puts progress at risk. There have already been delays in a number of scientific and compliance programs that impact the Commission’s ability to meet its mandate.

It was also troubling that IOTC members considered reducing the Developing Country Meeting Participation Fund. Given the large number of developing States in the IOTC membership, any reduction in the participation of delegations from developing States significantly hampers future progress at the IOTC. The Commission’s Compliance Support Missions have been successful in increasing the compliance levels of CPCs and in building the capacity of developing States to engage with the work of the Commission – thereby amplifying the outcomes during this session. Adequate resourcing in support of these programs is critical.

The Road Ahead

With these new and amended resolutions the intersessional period will again be busy. ISSF and WWF look forward to continued close collaboration with the IOTC Secretariat and CPCs on progressing this work and further capacity building iniatives. We congratulate the Republic of Korea for their hosting and substantially contributing to the successes of this years meeting and look forward to the 2016 Session in La Reunion.