IOTC Poised to Progress Harvest Strategies and Reference Points

Claire van der Geest is Strategic Policy Advisor for ISSF, and Wetjens Dimmlich is Indian Ocean Tuna Programme Manager at World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF). 

Posted April 21, 2015

This year’s IOTC meeting, held 27 April-1 May 2015 in Busan, Korea, has the potential to be a concrete win for sustainable tuna and a turning point for tuna management in the Indian Ocean. Given the many proposals on hand that can make a significant contribution to the management of Indian Ocean tuna stocks and that address top ISSF and WWF priorities for the region, we join together in applauding the initiative taken in drafting these proposals for the Commission’s consideration

IOTC members will consider proposals to refine existing resolutions on issues such as data, capacity management, sharks, and vessel monitoring systems (VMS), as well as several new proposals on a skipjack harvest strategy, management of both traditional FADs and the use of light boats and on FADs to attract fish. As they make their way through these numerous proposals, we urge all parties to keep a sharp focus on the big picture – long-term tuna sustainability through scientifically rigorous and precautionary management – while negotiating in good faith prior to and during this year’s meeting.

In that vein, there are two proposals – Proposal G and Proposal H – on which ISSF and WWF will be especially focused in our work with our partners and IOTC members. Consistent with the IOTC Scientific Committee advice, these Proposals call for the adoption of amendments to Resolution 13-10, On Interim Target and Limit Reference Points and a Decision Framework. Importantly, they highlight the increasing recognition that harvest strategies using reference points and associated harvest control rules are an effective way to manage fisheries.

Both ISSF and WWF continue to advocate for the adoption of harvest strategies. That’s because they establish a formulaic approach to taking management decisions based on scientific advice by: establishing decision rules to respond to various fishery conditions; providing greater certainty to fishing industry; and avoiding ad-hoc decision making. As the world’s second largest tuna fishery, it is critical that the IOTC adopt and implement species-specific harvest strategies. With most IOTC stocks considered to be above their MSY level currently, IOTC must act now. Further delay until such a time that stocks dip into a critical status will only result in damaging and long-lasting ecological, economic and social impacts.

Proposals G and H seek to refine one of the essential steps associated with developing and implementing a harvest strategy – the implementation of target and limit reference points, or TRPs and LRPs, respectively. Consistent with the scientific advice, which acknowledges that for most IOTC species, MSY-based reference points are unable to be rigorously estimated, the proposals are establishing the use of proxy target and limit reference points based on biomass depletion levels. We are encouraged by the proposed work plan to further develop complete harvest strategies for key IOTC species. Harvest control rules (HCR) are an additional and possibly the most challenging component of developing and implementing a harvest strategy; HCRs are what management action to take under which circumstances, and when to take this action. Fortunately, a number of Resolutions already adopted by the IOTC may be incorporated within any future HCR framework development.

Many IOTC members are still gaining familiarity with the many elements of harvest strategies, including the use of reference points, harvest control rules and the management strategy evaluation process. Understanding the “how to” of harvest strategies is essential to their development and adoption, particularly given the increasing number of IOTC member States that are including harvest strategies in their national legislation. ISSF and WWF continue to support the IOTC’s Connecting Science and Management workshops, the Science and Management Dialogue adopted in Resolution 14-03 and the Management Procedures Dialogue processes funded through the GEF program. These efforts will foster understanding among all IOTC members about these important management tools and how they can benefit the development and maintenance of sustainable tuna fisheries.

We strongly encourage active participation of all delegations at the Management Procedures Dialogue on 26 April as an opportunity to engage on these important proposals in advance of the Commission’s discussions. In particular, we urge IOTC members to utilise Proposal I On a Skipjack Harvest Strategy as an example during the Management Procedures Dialogue because it sets out an initial complete harvest strategy for skipjack tuna. That is, it includes an LRP and an interim TRP together with the trigger points and associated management action to be taken if the stock declines from the TRP and/or LRP. If adopted, this proposal will establish precautionary management arrangements for the long-term sustainability of the Indian Ocean skipjack stock. We recognise that these arrangements will need to be refined in sync with the ongoing scientific work, and we will continue to support these efforts.

Finally, ISSF and WWF are encouraged that other proposals presented for consideration at this year’s Commission meeting seek to amend existing management arrangements, especially: the extension on the freeze on capacity (Proposal F) and the establishment of a FAD management Working Group (Proposal J). As always, we stand ready to work with all IOTC members on all the important issues before the Commission, including crafting harvest strategy resolutions that maintain the long term sustainability of these resources, recognizing the vital importance of tuna to the food security and economic development of coastal States in the Indian Ocean region.