Tuna Management Organization Meeting Yields New, Improved Measures on Harvest Strategies, to Combat IUU, and to Protect Sharks

Date: June 1, 2017

As the dust settles on the annual meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), it’s time to reflect on this year’s progress and missteps. 

Progress: IUU, Sharks, and Harvest Strategies
We are delighted that, following two years of work, the IOTC Commission adopted amendments to its IUU listing procedure. The new measure implements a more systematic approach to the listing of vessels, strengthening the ability to list vessels that are presumed to have been operating illegally. This action, coupled with previous decisions such as mandatory use of IMO numbers, strengthens the fight against IUU fishing activities in the Indian Ocean region.

We are also pleased to see critical progress on shark conservation. IOTC is now the first tuna RFMO to require that fresh sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached. Unfortunately, the existing use of fin-to-carcass weight ratios remains in place for frozen sharks, despite that such a measure (1) is not a verifiable means of ensuring the eradication of shark finning, and (2) has proven ineffective in terms of implementation, enforcement and monitoring.

Finally, the Commission has endorsed a new timeline for the development and implementation of harvest strategies consistent with a recommendation of the Second Performance Review. We see this action, combined with the work of IOTC Technical Committee on Management Procedures (TCMP), as a solid basis for guiding critical efforts on which we look forward to continued engagement.

Protecting Yellowfin Tuna – Ambiguous Developments

The Commission agreed to amendments to the yellowfin tuna-rebuilding plan. However, the impact of the yellowfin measure agreed to last year (which only came into effect in January of 2017) has not yet been evaluated and so it remains unclear if the amendments made will strengthen the rebuilding of the yellowfin stock. It is disappointing that there was continued inaction to arrest the overfishing of other key IOTC species, including neritic tuna and billfish species. ISSF and WWF applaud the commitment by coastal States to table a proposal for the neritic tunas in 2018, and we see this as a welcomed development.

Also regarding yellowfin tuna, the IOTC agreed to a reduction in permissible FAD deployments per purse seine vessel as well as a limit to the number of supply vessels that can be used per purse seine vessel. These measures — together with the catch restrictions — must now be evaluated to ensure that they’ll meet the Commission’s objective to rebuild the stock, and the lack of data that is available undermines this needed evaluation.

In the future, the Commission must commence a more rigorous process, based on scientific advice, to evaluate management actions prior to adopting management measures. This is the only way to ensure that they will in fact manage the stocks consistent with the agreed interim target and limit reference points.

Missteps: Driftnets and Commission Procedure
ISSF and WWF are very concerned that the Commission weakened the existing prohibition on large-scale driftnets on the high seas. As adopted, the new resolution now only applies to vessels on the IOTC register that are targeting tuna and tuna-like species. The previous resolution simply prohibited the use of large-scale drift nets on the high seas.

The resolution that the Commission adopted last week does not effectuate the United Nations resolution on the prohibition of large-scale driftnets, which required the implementation of a global moratorium on the use of all large-scale pelagic driftnets on the high seas, in enclosed and semi-enclosed seas, by 31 December 1992. We strongly urge the Commission to review this decision at its 2018 Session: the Indian Ocean must act on this longstanding international commitment.

We are also concerned about the growing trend of threatening the use of the Commission’s objection procedure as a negotiating tool. Although this is a legal mechanism, we are concerned that, IOTC parties are using the objection procedure to opt out of implementing measures instead of negotiating to find an agreed consensus or using the voting procedure. If this continues or increases, the effective implementation of IOTC conservation and management measures for the region’s fisheries resources may be at risk.

If this worrying precedent continues, there is a real risk that key IOTC measures will be ineffective at managing fisheries resources. We call on all members to recall their commitment under the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA) and Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) to cooperate in negotiating management measures for tuna resources.

MCS: More Work Needed
The above-mentioned improvements to the IOTC IUU vessel-listing procedure are noteworthy progress toward strengthening monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) measures in the region. But more work is needed on this foundational element of fisheries management.

As we noted in our preview blog, further strengthening IOTC’s MCS measures can help verify implementation of and compliance with all agreed-upon management measures — including regarding harvest strategies.

Steps we called for toward an integrated regional approach to IOTC MCS include:

We join our colleagues and partners in a continued call for these important measures at IOTC. And we look forward to working across sectors — from industry to markets, the NGO community to scientists — to reach out to and support IOTC members on these critical matters.


Claire van der Geest leads ISSF’s policy engagement in the IOTC; Wetjens Dimmlich is the Indian Ocean Tuna Programme Manager at World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF); and Jerry Scott sits on the ISSF Scientific Advisory Committee.