7 November 2014

Posted by Margaret Spring, Michele Kuruc and Susan Jackson

Margaret Spring is VP of Conservation & Science and Chief Conservation Officer at Monterey Bay Aquarium, Michele Kuruc is Vice President for Marine Policy for World Wildlife Fund-US, and Susan Jackson is President of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.

Observers, whether human or electronic, act as eyes and ears on the water. They provide key information on fishing activities, such as data on catch, effort and bycatch, and assist with monitoring compliance –– all as a means of keeping scientists, enforcement personnel, fisheries managers, flag states, and coastal states in the know. Given these numerous benefits, it’s easy to see why promoting effective levels of observer coverage in global tuna fisheries is a key policy priority for our organizations.

ICCAT is currently behind the curve on observer coverage for the large-scale tropical tuna purse seine fishery, and is falling even farther behind. The regional body has only been able to agree on a 100 percent observer coverage requirement for just a small region of the tropical tuna fishery (in the Gulf of Guinea) for only two months of the year. Now, several ICCAT Parties want to suspend even this limited program, which, as it stands, has never been implemented effectively. ICCAT needs to take observer coverage seriously. Without it, managers and scientists are at a distinct disadvantage in their ability to collect and verify data and monitor the implementation of conservation measures. When you consider that IATTC in the Eastern Pacific and WCPFC in the Central and Western Pacific have 100 percent observer coverage requirements for purse seine vessels, ICCAT’s inability to catch up to its peer organizations in this area is especially concerning.

The good news is that there are several tools to help ICCAT and its member states develop an observer program. A unique partnership under the leadership of the Government of Ghana, for example, has been created with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the tuna industry and ISSF to trial electronic monitoring systems (EMS) on purse seine vessels. This partnership operates under a global project funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) as a five-year activity within the Common Oceans program, aimed at improving the sustainability of tuna fisheries and conservation of biodiversity. The trials evaluate EMS to assess if the systems can be used when human observers are not possible or as an alternative. Further, the trials will assess the possibility of using EMS to improve data and compliance by all countries involved in tuna fishing, specifically those in the ICCAT region, where the pilot is taking place. These trials will yield information and findings that will benefit all countries involved with tuna fisheries management. Other examples of available tools include ISSF-published technical papers on human and electronic observer programs and the recently released observer guidebook. We believe such trials and technical resources can assist RFMOs, their members and participating countries in developing and strengthening their national, regional or sub-regional programs and in ensuring that observer programs worldwide are striving to reach the same set of high standards.

Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) are another important tool for successful and sustainable fisheries management. VMS is essential in the fight to combat IUU fishing and in monitoring the implementation of RFMO conservation measures overall. Our organizations strongly advocate for the use of VMS by RFMOs and national governments globally. Satellite-based VMS systems are programs that use on-board transceiver units that transmit reports to satellites, at fixed or variable intervals, and are then received by land-based fisheries monitoring centers. The on-board transceivers typically transmit position, the vessel identifier, time, speed, course and date. Some VMS-linked software can transmit catch (weekly and upon entry/exit from a specific area) and transshipment reports, port of landing, and other data. ISSF has released a technical paper that surveys the VMS programs in RFMOs and identifies a set of best practice elements for States and RFMOs to use in developing or strengthening VMS programs for fishing vessels. The paper’s findings support our stance that ICCAT’s measures for VMS are outdated and not in line with international best practices.

As an example, consider the rate at which information is transmitted. Timely transmission of information is an essential part of any effective VMS program –– it impacts the ability of managers and scientists to have access to useful reports from the vessel, such as position. Currently, ICCAT requires the transmission of information at a rate of every six hours, which is far too long an interval for effective compliance monitoring. Because a typical purse seine set takes approximately three hours, transmissions every one to two hours are recommended for scientific purposes and to effectively estimate fishing effort. The ICCAT Integrated Monitoring Measures (IMM) Working Group recommended reducing the transmission rate to four hours. While that frequency may not be at the ideal and recommended rate, the working group recommendation represents at least a stronger basis for progress on VMS at the ICCAT annual meeting. There was a consensus of the members in this ICCAT working group that a transmission rate of four hours would substantially improve the region’s ability to monitor fishing effort. We urge ICCAT to adopt the IMM Working Group recommendation without delay and to develop a workplan to further strengthen its VMS measure in line with global best practices.

As the Commission’s annual meeting in Genoa, Italy commences, our organizations – Monterey Bay Aquarium, WWF and ISSF – join together in urging ICCAT to adopt amendments to strengthen its VMS provisions as well as to join other tuna RFMOs and require 100 percent observer coverage for purse seine vessels. We look forward to continuing to work with the region to help implement and strengthen these programs, which are vital to the long term conservation and management of the region’s tuna fisheries upon which so many communities depend.

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/.