By: Claire van der Geest and Holly Koehler
Date: June 6, 2018

Hundreds of Indian Ocean fisheries experts, decision makers and NGO observers attended the 22nd Session of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) in Bangkok recently. We saw the Commission make progress on some of ISSF’s priority “asks,” but waver on many others. Here is our recap of the progress and missed opportunities for the critical issues facing tuna fisheries of the region.

Tuna Conservation

The good news is that the Commission did not make changes to yellowfin tuna catch reductions detailed in IOTC’s yellowfin rebuilding resolution.

As we noted in the lead up to the IOTC meeting, altering these catch reductions would be unwise — because the impact of the reductions had yet to be understood due to their recent effective dates as well as an outdated yellowfin stock assessment. Further, it would undermine the Commission’s ability to properly assess the impact of such a management decision on this overfished stock before considering what further action is needed to ensure yellowfin’s full recovery.

Looking beyond yellowfin, while delegates acknowledged another of our key concerns in the area — the management of neritic tuna species and the billfish species — the IOTC took no effective management action for these species.   

We will be working intersessionally with IOTC member countries so that more is done on these critical fisheries next year.  

Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs)

Progress on FADs at the IOTC meeting was mixed. Noting the need to address marine debris and entanglement in marine habitats, IOTC adopted the EU proposal for a BioFAD experiment. ISSF has collaborated in the Indian Ocean with coastal states, NGOs and purse seine fleets on biodegradable FAD experiments, and is a partner in this BioFAD project funded by the EU — so we of course welcomed this development.

ISSF was also pleased that the Commission adopted Japan’s proposal to amend the FAD management resolution to include support and supply vessels, which will remove ambiguity regarding implementation. But the IOTC did not further refine this resolution to include mandatory data requirements and analysis of these data. And, unfortunately, the Commission conducted only a limited assessment of compliance with the existing FAD set limit at its Compliance Committee.

Harvest Strategies

Fortunately, the IOTC’s Technical Committee on Management Procedures progressed management strategy evaluation (MSE) work for the four key tuna species, which is essential for the Commission to develop robust harvest strategies for these stocks. It is critical that the Commission now develops species-specific harvest strategies in accordance with Resolution 15/10 and prepares to adopt harvest control rules by 2019.

Bycatch and Sharks

ISSF is also pleased that the EU’s proposal for the management of blue sharks was adopted. This is a positive step toward the fulsome management of sharks in the Indian Ocean. But we are discouraged by the Commission’s failure to adopt the proposal tabled for the conservation of mobula and manta rays that would have prohibited retention, intentional setting and required data collection, as other RFMOs have already done.

While data on sharks in the Indian Ocean are limited, preventing accurate assessments of shark status, it remains clear that the abundance of some species is declining. Urgent attention is needed to promote the conservation of sharks and rays.

Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) Tools

IUU Vessel List

ISSF is gratified to see IOTC adopt amendments to its resolution on IUU vessel listing that provide for cross-listing of vessels included on the IUU vessel lists of other RFMOs — a change we have been advocating for in the RFMOs as a best practice. This move strengthens IOTC’s ability to combat IUU fishing activities in concert with other RFMOs. 


We also applaud the adoption of amendments to the IOTC transshipment resolution, including defining “large-scale tuna longline vessel,” another long-standing ask of ours. ISSF looks forward to working with IOTC to continue bringing this resolution further in line with best practices.

Observer Programs

Comprehensive observer coverage is a critical component of monitoring and management for sustainable tropical tuna fisheries. WCPFC and IATTC require 100% observer coverage of large-scale purse seine vessels. ICCAT requires 100% observer coverage for all vessels 20m length overall or greater during a specific time/area closure, as well as 100% coverage in the bluefin fishery.

Clearly, then, the IOTC’s 5% minimum requirement for various gear types, including purse seine, is worst in class. Yet IOTC delegates could not agree on even modest proposals to increase coverage rates from a minimum of 5% to 10-30%, depending on the gear type – proposals that fell far short of our asks for: 100% observer coverage on large-scale purse seine vessels; an increase in longline observer coverage to 20%; and the development of electronic monitoring (EM) and reporting standards that will make 100% observer coverage in purse seine and longline fisheries possible.  

This continued failure to take action to bring the IOTC Regional Observer Program up to modern best practice standards is not going unnoticed by NGOs, processors and markets. The IOTC needs to take concrete steps next year in improve in this area.

Capacity Management

Despite prolonged discussion, the Commission was not able to agree to an extension of its existing measure on fishing capacity. But the need to address fishing capacity urgently persists, particularly since no allocation scheme exists. Excess fishing capacity contributes to overfishing, marine resources degradation, decline in food production potential, and economic waste.

Next Steps

While we can tally a few successes, we left Bangkok disappointed. We believe more progress should have been made on critical issues of observer coverage, data collection, tuna conservation, FAD management, sharks and bycatch.

ISSF will continue to work intersessionally with IOTC members to find solutions to addressing these issues. The long-term success of the region’s fisheries depends on it.