Wider adoption by RFMOs of clear harvest control rules can help to prevent overfishing and stock depletion

Contact: Erin Grandstaff and Charlie Patterson, +1 202-466-4437, erin@vennsq.com, charlie@vennsq.com

Location: Washington, D.C. -- January 24, 2017

Only 11 of 19 major commercial tuna stocks are being managed to avoid overfishing and restore depleted fish populations, in part because the majority (16) of them are not protected by well-defined harvest control rules (HCRs) from Regional Fishing Management Organizations (RFMOs), according to independent scientists in a report published by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF).

About the Report
In response to inconsistencies amongst assessments of tuna stocks against the MSC certification standard, “An Evaluation of the Sustainability of Global Tuna Stocks Relative to Marine Stewardship Council Criteria” takes a global, comprehensive approach to scoring stocks against certain components of the MSC standard. In addition, the report — authored by experienced MSC assessors Joseph E. Powers and Paul A. H. Medley and updated twice since first published in 2013 — is designed to:

  • Provide a basis for comparing between stock scores as assessed by the same experts
  • Become a useful source document for future tuna certifications or in the establishment of tuna Fishery Improvement Projects (FIPs)
  • Offer a “snapshot” of the current status of the stocks, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of RFMOs
  • Prioritize ISSF projects and advocacy efforts against initiatives that will improve low performance indicator scores

The scores in this report focus on stock status (MSC Principle 1) and the international management aspects relevant to RFMOs (part of MSC Principle 3) and are based on publicly available fishery and RFMO data. Each of these Principles is evaluated in relationship to Performance Indicators (PIs) within each Principle.

Key Findings
The report scores tuna stocks (bigeye, yellowfin, albacore, and skipjack — but not bluefin) and each tuna RFMO (ICCAT, IATTC, WCPFC, and IOTC). An 80 is a passing score, below 60 is a failing score, and 60–79 would indicate a conditional pass, with the requirement that any deficiency is addressed within five years if a fishery were to become MSC-certified. The stock scores for each principle, which are comprised of scores for performance indicators within the principle, show that:

Principle 1: “A fishery must be conducted in a manner that does not lead to over-fishing or depletion of the exploited populations and, for those populations that are depleted, the fishery must be conducted in a manner that demonstrably leads to their recovery.”

  • Among seven tuna species in the Atlantic Ocean, only one — Northern Albacore, which “has recovered from biomass reductions several decades ago” — received an overall principle-level passing score.
  • In contrast, in the Pacific, only one stock — Western Bigeye, which has been undergoing a steady decline since the 1970s — received an overall principle-level failing score.
  • Likewise, in the Indian Ocean, only Yellowfin received an overall failing score. However, the outlook for that stock in 2016 is slightly more optimistic than it was in 2015.
  • Yellowfin stocks in the Eastern Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans require rebuilding, as do Mediterranean Albacore; Atlantic Bigeye; and Western Pacific Bigeye and Eastern Pacific Bigeye.
  • Mediterranean Albacore and Western Pacific Bigeye had the most failing scores on individual performance indicators — including stock status, stock rebuilding, and harvest control rules and tools.
  • Only Eastern Pacific Skipjack received passing scores of 80 on each of the six performance indicators for Principle 1.

Principle 3: “The fishery is subject to an effective management system that respects local, national and international laws and standards and incorporates institutional and operational frameworks that require use of the resource to be responsible and sustainable.”

  • Two RFMOs examined in the report — WCPFC and IATTC — received passing scores for all seven performance indicators under Principle 3.
  • The other two RFMOs — ICCAT and IOTC — received conditional pass scores on these performance indicators: “consultation, roles and responsibilities” and “compliance and enforcement.” ICCAT was given a conditional pass score for “legal and customary framework.” Other performance indicators include “long term objectives”; “fishery specific objectives”; “decision-making processes”; and “management performance evaluation.”
  • All four RFMOs received overall principle-level passing scores from the authors.

The Evaluation report also includes detailed remarks on each stock, evaluations of the four RFMOs, and comprehensive reference citations.

As the authors note, the “status of stock determinations change continually with new data, new assessments and new findings.” A comparison of the December 2016 report to the previous March 2015 version reveals that good progress has been made in the adoption of interim harvest control rules for several stocks in IATTC and IOTC, as well as in the RFMO management frameworks (previously, both ICCAT and IOTC failed to score 80 or higher).

“ISSF applauds tuna RFMOs for improving their management frameworks,” comments Dr. Victor Restrepo, ISSF Vice President, Science. “While the slow pace is not ideal, it is evident that progress is being made. These improvements must continue if we are to ensure sustainable tuna fisheries into the future.”

While the Evaluation report focuses on tuna stock status and sustainability as well as on RFMO policies, it does not address national or bilateral fishing jurisdictions, gear- or fleet-specific ecosystem impacts, or specific fisheries’ ecosystems — all of which are also considered within the MSC assessment methodology.

Since 2011, ISSF has been an active stakeholder in MSC tuna fishery assessments and certifications. ISSF works to develop and implement verifiable, science-based practices, commitments and international management measures to help all tuna fisheries become capable of meeting the MSC certification standard without conditions.

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/.