Progress on Management, but Impasse on Sharks and Other Topics

24 November 2015

The annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has come and gone, and with its conclusion comes cause for measured celebration, as well as grounds for disappointment. Before the meeting in St. Julian’s, Malta, ISSF promoted a list of priorities urging further improvement in the collection of FAD data, expanding the level of observer coverage on large-scale purse seine vessels, strengthened shark conservation measures, promoting the use of electronic monitoring and reporting technologies, and advancing the development of Harvest Control Rules (HCRs) in order to increase sustainability in the region’s tuna fisheries.

First, the good news.

On the topic of harvest control rules (HCRs) and harvest strategies – essentially pre-agreed upon action plans for avoiding overfishing or for rebuilding an overfished stock that prevent long negotiations leading to delayed action or inaction – ISSF is pleased that ICCAT made some progress. The Commission adopted a process for developing HCRs and the use of Management Strategy Evaluations for priority species. ICCAT also adopted a more specific proposal to advance HCR implementation for the North Atlantic albacore stock. ISSF is hopeful that the development of an HCR for Northern albacore will serve to guide work on other stocks.

The latest scientific assessment shows that the stock of Atlantic bigeye tuna is overfished and being subjected to further overfishing. In Malta, ICCAT revised the management measure for tropical tunas, including bigeye tuna, to reduce the total allowable catch (TAC) for bigeye to a level consistent with scientific advice. However, the critical next step will be allowing the stock to rebuild, and then putting a harvest strategy framework in place so that overfishing does not happen in the future.

ISSF is also pleased about the evolution of the Working Group on Convention Amendment that continues to make progress on the process of modernizing ICCAT’s Convention, which dates back to 1966. With 50 Contracting Parties, this is a major undertaking, and ISSF congratulates ICCAT on this work to date. But while ICCAT adopted resolutions concerning the application of the Precautionary Approach and of the Ecosystem Approach To Fisheries Management – both of which we strongly support – these resolutions are unfortunately non-binding. These seminal concepts of modern fisheries management will not be obligatory until a revised Convention is adopted and they become part of ICCAT’s legal texts – a process that could take many years.

Finally, the potential for lost or abandoned fish aggregating devices (FADs) to become harmful marine debris is a matter that is gaining increasing attention. ICCAT amended the terms of reference for its Working Group on FADs to include an element to address this issue. This is a step in the right direction for the management of FADs in the region.

Now, the bad news.

The Commission once again failed to adopt a proposal made by 60% of its members to prohibit the removal of shark fins at sea and require that all sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached (fully or partially). With so much momentum behind a proposal that strengthens data collection on and monitoring of shark catches – something sorely needed across the globe – it is a disappointment that the measure was blocked. Given that several ICCAT members have already adopted a fins-attached requirement in their national legislation and have demonstrated that their fishing industry can adapt to follow best practices, there are no excuses for delay. ISSF urges all tuna RFMOs to adopt measures to prohibit the at-sea removal of shark fins – mandating that they remain naturally attached until the shark is landed. ICCAT also failed to adopt other proposed conservation measures for shortfin mako, blue and thresher sharks.

In addition to its constructive TAC provision in the tropical tuna measure, the Commission adopted a larger time-area closure that prohibits fishing on floating objects and limits the number of FADs to 500 active FADs per vessel. Since there is no obvious scientific basis for these two measures, only time will tell if they effectively reduce mortality of small bigeye tuna.

While it is difficult to call ICCAT’s 24th Regular Meeting a resounding success, ISSF applauds the many positive steps taken. The Commission is demonstrating that it believes in a precautionary management approach and is willing to do what it takes to achieve that framework. It will be interesting to see how its convention amendment process progresses. For our part, ISSF will be there every step of the way to provide support, and to continue advocating for improved integration of science, data and monitoring in the region’s management measures.



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