IPNLF attends the 19th Session of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC)

Adam Baske, IPNLF Policy & Advocacy Advisor, reports back from the annual meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) in Busan, South Korea.
One-by-one tuna fishing in the Indian Ocean (Maldives). © IPNLF

As a hub for sustainability-minded organisations and businesses, IPNLF strives to forge positive change to ensure a healthy future for pole-and-line/handline fisheries and coastal communities.  As part of this commitment, IPNLF recently participated in one of the major international tuna management body meetings. Last month, John Burton (IPNLF Chairman) and Adam Baske (IPNLF Policy & Advocacy Advisor) attended the annual meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), in Busan, South Korea.  Over a quarter of the world’s tuna originates from the Indian Ocean, so management decisions taken by the IOTC have global repercussions and directly impact IPNLF members. IPNLF staff attended to encourage policy makers to take action on a broad suite of initiatives that would improve management practices in line with scientific advice, improve data collection, and reduce bycatch across the region.  Given that decisions require consensus of all 32 member countries, we knew this would be a heavy lift.

In the months leading up to the IOTC meeting, IPNLF pulled together a group of international fisheries experts to assist in the development of two proposals for the IOTC meeting – one on reference points and a decision framework, and the other on a harvest strategy for skipjack tuna in the Indian Ocean.  These proposals were submitted on behalf of the Government of the Maldives, and were well-received given their heavy reliance on science and requirement to further refine reference points and harvest strategies through future work of the Commission.  Ahead of the meeting, many environmental groups and industry associations were speaking out in support for these proposals, and many countries indicated their support.

Separately, IPNLF submitted a position statement to the IOTC, which was posted on the meeting website two weeks before the meeting.  Other NGOs that submitted position statements included: ISSF, Pew, Greenpeace, WWF, and the International Game Fishing Association.  In an initial attempt to mobilize the IPNLF membership to help achieve policy outcomes, we also reached out to IPNLF members with business interests in the Indian Ocean tuna fisheries.  We helped interested members draft letters to the relevant government delegations, including the EU, Australia, the UK, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Maldives.  This also provided IPNLF with an opportunity to follow up with delegations at the meeting and to solicit input on how to more effectively engage with government delegations in the future.

Indian Ocean skipjack tuna, caught by pole-and-line. © IPNLF

The week prior to the Commission meeting, IPNLF attended IOTC’s Finance Committee, the Compliance Committee, and a Management Procedures Dialogue Workshop.  All meetings were valuable and offered opportunities for side meetings with other key delegations.  The actual Commission meeting got underway on April 27, and countries only had five days to get through a packed agenda, which included 16 proposals to consider for adoption.  The negotiations were difficult on many proposals of interest, but some progress was achieved.  Below is a list of key proposals and a summary of how negotiations fared:

Reference Points: The Maldives proposals on reference points was co-sponsored by both Australia and the EU.  This was a very positive development, and clearly demonstrated the Maldives’ leadership and the broad support from the IOTC membership.  Even with the EU and Australia co-sponsoring the proposal on reference points, some countries believed the measure was premature and went beyond the scientific advice.  After much back-and-forth, a watered down version was adopted, which still strengthens IOTC’s commitments on reference points.

Skipjack Harvest Strategy:  The Maldives spent considerable time on the plenary floor introducing this proposal, which is much more airtime than most proposals received; this lead to a discussion where many coastal states recommended taking more action than what was proposed.  However, some countries believed that the proposal was premature for the IOTC and suggested that the Scientific Committee and relevant subsidiary bodies (Working Party on Tropical Tunas and Working Party on Methods) continue to work on harvest strategies.  While the proposal was not adopted, the harvest strategy proposed by the Maldives will be used as a test case in the next skipjack assessment, and further work will be carried out with in the current arrangements  the of the IOTC MSE Work Program towards a harvest strategy.

FAD Management: IOTC agreed to ‘limit’ the numbers of drifting FADs deployed per vessel to 550.  This high benchmark may actually allow for an increase in overall dFAD use, but it was the only number that a certain country was willing to accept.  Additionally, FADs that utilize underwater lights were banned, and an Ad hoc Working Group on FADs was established to work on FAD issues and suggest revised limits at future Commission meetings.

Data Reporting: Three measures were adopted that will incrementally improve data reporting in line with the scientific advice and evolving data needs of the Commission.

Shark Conservation: A shark conservation measure that would have required that fins be naturally attached to sharks retained onboard was rejected.  Similar proposals have been rejected at other international fisheries meetings because some countries believe fins should be allowed to be removed to make more room in fish holds.

Overall, there was some progress achieved at the IOTC, and IPNLF played a significant role in advancing the work on reference points and harvest strategies across the entire Commission.  We learned a lot, made great contacts, improved relationships with key partners, and had the chance to talk with other countries that were interested in starting pole-and-line/handline fisheries.  We will also look to build on the success we had in mobilizing IPNLF members to reach out to relevant delegations ahead of RFMO meetings. The 2015 IOTC meeting was a positive start to IPNLF’s international policy engagement, and the experience will feed into the development of a longer term strategy for RFMO engagement moving forward.

Other links of interest:

IPNLF Technical Briefing: The Impossible Task of Free School Verification: Can “unassociated sets” exist in the western Indian Ocean?

IPNLF Press Release: New dFAD limits defy logic