Recap of IATTC 92nd Annual Meeting

By Dr. Gala Moreno

August 3, 2017

In 2016, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) had to meet three times to adopt tuna conservation measures for a single year. So the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) came to the IATTC annual meeting last week uncertain that agreement on measures to conserve tropical tuna in Eastern Pacific Ocean fisheries would be possible.

But this year, member nations negotiated with renewed urgency. They arrived at last week’s IATTC meeting just as this year’s total catch limit for FAD fishing on yellowfin and bigeye tuna was being reached. The implication was that many fleets would be forced to stop fishing for approximately five months — a situation that would have significant socioeconomic impact on many fleets fishing in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO), as well as on the canners that depend on their supply.

Within this context, members were motivated to action. The result was the adoption of a solid set of tropical tuna conservation measures for 2018-2020.

Success in Tropical Tuna Conservation

Measures for tuna conservation have topped ISSF’s list of “asks” for the IATTC this year. And the meeting outcomes answered our appeal to adopt a measure that will avoid an increase in fishing mortality for yellowfin and bigeye tuna stocks.

The approved tropical tuna conservation measures for 2018-2020 include a 72-day fishery closure, consistent with the scientific advice to increase the closure time by 10 days to offset a recent increase in capacity. As a replacement for the catch limit that had been in place for this year, the fishery closure in 2017 is also extended by 10 days (to 72 days) for fleets fishing with FADs.

FAD Management Measures

FAD management was also among our top “asks.” ISSF urged IATTC to strengthen FAD management through science-based measures, and the Commission made commendable progress to that end.

ISSF is pleased that IATTC adopted a measure to require the use of non-entangling FAD designs starting in 2019. Such a requirement is the culmination of much collaborative research and advocacy by ISSF and our partners, including the fishing industry.

Other explicit measures for FADs for 2018-2020 were adopted:

  • Purse-seine vessels cannot deploy FADs during the 20 days prior to the start of the closed season. Further, within 15 days before the closure starts, these vessels must recover a number of FADs equal to the number of FADs sets made during those 15 days.
  • The Commission adopted limits for active FADs by category of vessel size, ranging from 450 active FADs for the largest vessels to 70 FADs for the smallest ones.
  • IATTC member countries must now report the numbers of active FADs for their purse seine fleets — information that can help scientists improve our understanding of FAD fishing.

ISSF and others have been advocating that quantitative FAD data be reported and analyzed to facilitate science-based FAD management measures. So, while the adopted FAD limits do not have a strict scientific grounding, they open the door to better understanding of FAD use through experience and data collection — which will form the basis for future, refined FAD management measures.

We anticipate that research proposed by IATTC scientific staff, as well as research recommended by the IATTC FAD working group — of which ISSF is an active member — will yield results to inform the Commission’s decision-making in to the future.

Other Issues Will Have to Wait for the Commission’s Next Meeting

The important and productive work referenced above – which took the session through to 1 AM on the last meeting day – left insufficient time to deal with other important proposals. Proposals that were submitted to the Commission but not addressed included: conservation measures for sharks, turtles, and manta rays; increased observer coverage for the longline fleet and smaller purse-seiners; and safety measures for observers at sea.

Although it was not possible to deal with all priority issues at this year’s meeting, considerable progress was made for tuna conservation in the coming years. We are keen for the Commission to tackle pending matters based on scientific knowledge to achieve long-term sustainable tuna fishing in the EPO. And we look forward to a continued trend of productive and cooperative meetings long into IATTC’s future.