Indian Ocean tuna science meeting concludes in Indonesia

Adam Baske, IPNLF’s Policy & Advocacy Advisor, reports from the recent 18th Scientific Committee meeting of the IOTC (Indian Ocean Tuna Commission) that took place in Bali 23rd­27th November 2015.
Pole-and-line fishers at sunset, Indonesia. Photo © Paul Hilton & IPNLF

IPNLF recognises the unique challenges faced by fisheries managers in the Indian Ocean and will work with a range of stakeholders in the coming months to encourage the adoption of management improvements at the next Commission meeting. Based on the discussions in Bali, it’s safe to say that ending yellowfin overfishing will be a key priority, as well as pushing for a harvest strategy for skipjack to ensure that stock stays healthy in the years to come for the benefit of coastal communities throughout the region. 

Indonesia – the world’s biggest, and most populated island chain – has a special connection with tuna. Tuna are the foundation of the local diet in many regions, and collectively account for more than 20% of the country’s total fisheries production. Given Indonesia’s size, local dependence on tuna, and well­ established export market, it’s no wonder that Indonesia is the global capital of tuna production. 

To learn more about what exactly is happening with the tuna stocks that Indonesia depends on, IPNLF recently travelled to Bali for the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) Scientific Committee meeting. This annual gathering brings together scientists from coastal countries and distant water fishing fleets active in the Indian Ocean to discuss the latest fisheries science and to develop advice for policymakers.

After five days of reports and discussion, the group identified a number of critical data gaps and agreed on recommendations for policymakers to act on at the next IOTC Commission meeting. These recommendations make up the best­available science, and should play a key role in future decisions about Indian Ocean fisheries management.

Here are the latest:

  • The IOTC needs more data on catch and fishing effort. This will give fisheries managers a clearer picture of total tuna catches and strengthen future stock assessments.
  • Indonesia, the country that catches the most tuna in the Indian Ocean, is making great strides to improve data collection. Indonesia made it clear that it is committed to proactively addressing data challenges, and will hold a workshop with the Secretariat in the coming weeks to further refine catch estimates. Indonesia is also in the process of developing a National Plan of Action on Sharks to improve the overall monitoring and management of these top predators.
  • 40% of the global yellowfin catches originate from the Indian Ocean. The new assessment shows that the stock is overfished and fishing rates are not sustainable. The Scientific Committee recommends a 20% cut in catches to rebuild the stock.
  • The Maldives, a thriving one­by­one fishing country, continues to improve data collection and provision. It recently approved a National Plan of Action on Sharks and submitted all catch data from its tuna fisheries to IOTC. The Maldives is also working to expand observer coverage and port sampling, so there should be more progress to report on next year.
  • Billfish in the Indian Ocean are in trouble. Striped marlin, blue marlin, black marlin, and sailfish stocks are either overfished or experiencing overfishing, and are mostly caught in longline and gillnet fisheries.
  • The status of shark species is unknown due to poor data levels. Given the amount of gillnet and longline fishing in the region, there is reason for concern.
  • The Scientific Committee discussed the development of harvest strategies for key tuna stocks. It will be critical that the Commission adopts these management frameworks to ensure sustainable and economically viable fisheries for future generations. 
Indonesian tuna. Photo © Paul Hilton & IPNLF