A Recap of the 2018 IATTC Annual Meeting

By Holly Koehler and Dr. Gala Moreno

September 12, 2018

The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) recently concluded its 93rd Annual Meeting in San Diego, addressing some of ISSF’s key recommendations such as strengthening the measures for non-entangling fish aggregating devices (FADs), stronger protections for human fisheries observers, and expanding the use of vessel IMO numbers.

The Eastern Pacific management body was coming off a successful 2017 meeting — where the IATTC adopted a 72-day fishery closure and passed a resolution to make the use of non-entangling FADs mandatory. The IATTC continued its progress this year by taking action on many of the “asks” made by ISSF and WWF. But there were some disappointing misses on improvements to FAD data submission protocols, the protection of sharks and sea turtles, and increased observer coverage for the longline fleet.

Sharpening Technical Definitions of Non-entangling FADs

The IATTC built upon its 2017 measure requiring the use of non-entangling FAD designs that reduce the entanglement of sharks, sea turtles, and other species. Key to enforcing this measure is having a technical definition of a non-entangling FAD design, to provide a uniform definition for the region and prevent design requirement loopholes. The IATTC commission has now successfully established such a definition — based in large part on ISSF research and the ISSF Guide for Non-Entangling FADs.

This was a collaborative success, achieved by scientists, RFMO decision-makers, and the vessel community working together. IATTC should be commended for its progress on non-entangling FADs this year. Once fully implemented, the new rule will significantly decrease the entanglement of marine life in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) — a substantial win for science, tuna fishing, and the ecosystem.

ISSF skippers workshops in the EPO have revealed shark entanglement in FADs used there, and research in the Indian Ocean estimates that 500,000 sharks could be saved with these kinds of designs. With this move, IATTC becomes a role model for other tuna RFMOs. We encourage all tuna RFMOs to strengthen their technical definitions of non-entangling FADs so there is consistent implementation of these critical designs across oceans.

Stronger Protections for Human Observers at Sea

Being an at-sea observer is difficult and at times dangerous work. At this year’s annual session, IATTC joined the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) in adopting a measure to ensure safety at sea for human observers. IATTC also extended these protections to observers operating on carrier vessels as part of its Regional Observer Program for transshipment.

This is not only a win for observers but also a critical step in ensuring IATTC receives quality data from observer programs. It is essential that these observers are able to do their jobs in a safe and professional environment. There is no reason that all RFMOs cannot follow the WCPFC and IATTC example and better ensure the safety and security of human observers.

Other Wins: IMO numbers for Small Vessels and Bluefin Tuna  

IATTC is the first RFMO to amend its authorized vessel register measures to implement the new International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations and require IMO numbers for all fishing vessels of more than 12m. IMO numbers are critical for tracking vessels, similar to vehicle identification numbers (VINs) for cars, which follow the life of the vessel, enabling traceability and helping to combat IUU fishing.

For more than eight years, ISSF has had a conservation measure that requires ISSF participating companies to refrain from transactions in tuna caught by vessels subject to listing in the RFMO authorized vessel record that do not have an IMO unique vessel identifier even though they are capable of receiving it. That tuna RFMOs are now acting to ensure all vessels that can receive an IMO number are required to do so is critical progress for traceability and closing off avenues for IUU fishing activities to flourish.

The IATTC also took action for the long-term conservation and management of bluefin tuna. The Commission adopted a measure that sets catch limits for bluefin for 2019-2020, addresses overfishing, and promotes joint work with the WCPFC. Another measure adopted implements a rebuilding plan for the bluefin population. These measures are major steps forward for addressing overfishing of an important tuna species in the region.

FAD Data: A Big Miss for EPO Fisheries

The number of FADs used in the EPO has grown in recent years. Fleets that were not previously using the devices are increasingly fishing on FADs — either opportunistically, on those FADs they encounter by chance, or by deploying FADs themselves. This situation has raised concerns in the region, and those concerns culminated in an IATTC requirement, adopted in July 2016, that member countries collect and report data on any FAD-related activity. Although this requirement became effective in January 2017, a year-and-a-half after becoming mandatory (and two years after the requirement was adopted), just 47% of the required FAD data had been received by IATTC as reported at the annual meeting. A mere three out of 10 countries have sent 100% of the data required, and some countries have reported no data at all.

Another IATTC requirement is that member countries report (or require their vessels to report) information related to all active FADs on a daily basis, with the goal of monitoring the active numbers of FADs per vessel. This year the IATTC staff recommended that — in order to use that information not only for compliance but for scientific purposes — member nations should provide the same raw FAD buoy data to IATTC that is received by original users like vessels or fishing companies.

This raw data is important because it allows scientists to connect a given FAD set with the history and characteristics of that FAD, such as time at sea, design, trajectory, tracking technology, and more. In effect, such data allows scientists to follow the life of a FAD — something the current reporting requirement does not make possible. And in turn, such analysis can improve the understanding of the effects of FAD-related tactics on catch, both target and bycatch species, as well as other unknowns about the impact of fishing with FADs.

Despite long negotiations and good-faith efforts by many, unfortunately a proposal for these raw data submissions was rejected — a blow to science-based management of FADs for the EPO purse-seine fishery. Instead, the IATTC scientific staff is now tasked with further proving the data’s value by showing what studies could be conducted if such a data provision is in place.

Next Steps

ISSF is pleased with the progress outlined above, and especially that several of our recommendations were acted on. Other positive outcomes at this year’s meeting include:

Still, other important proposals did not receive their due attention, or were met with strong resistance by a select few delegations. The proposals not addressed include:

  • Stronger conservation measures for tropical tunas due to increased fishing effort in the purse-seine fishery
  • Strengthened conservation measures for sharks and sea turtles
  • Increased observer coverage for the longline fleet and smaller purse seiners
  • Adoption of regional port state measures
  • Measures for gear-marking and reducing marine pollution

Members of the Commission should take a moment of reflection after this year’s meeting and consider how to progress these important conservation and management priorities. These issues must be addressed in order to achieve long-term sustainable tuna fishing in the EPO and to safeguard the marine environment. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners, the IATTC, and member countries towards accomplishing these goals.