The International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) has welcomed the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission’s decision to follow up its breakthrough decision to ensure the long-term health of the region’s skipjack fishery with the adoption of crucial measures designed to rebuild yellowfin stocks.
After a long week of negotiations, countries fishing for tuna in the Indian Ocean left the Annual Session of the IOTC in La Réunion (23-27 May) having made some important progress. On Thursday 26 May, the Maldives and 14 coastal countries led the adoption of a harvest control rule (HCR) for skipjack tuna. This represents a big step forward for the long-term outlook for that fishery and the communities dependent on it. This well-defined, pre-agreed management framework, informed by science, is an example of best-practice fisheries management, and this is the first skipjack tuna fishery in the world to have such a system in place.
Unlike the majority of fishery management decisions taken at an international level, this measure is not intended to restrict or reduce current fishing. It is instead a precautionary measure that outlines pre-agreed steps that will be taken should the skipjack fishery become unsustainable in the future. Currently, these stocks are in a healthy state.
On the most pressing issue facing the IOTC – the need to end overfishing of yellowfin tuna – delegates worked through to the final moments of the meeting on Friday 27 May to agree on measures to reduce fishing effort and catches. A combination of fishing cuts across major fishing gears was adopted (purse seine, gillnet, longline and pole-and-line), as well as measures to reduce catches of juvenile yellowfin by limiting drifting fish aggregating devices (dFADs), placing restrictions on the use of supply vessels that assist purse seiners during fishing operations and by banning the use of lights to attract tuna.
While IPNLF wanted stronger cuts on both yellowfin catches and dFAD numbers, the very fact that a yellowfin management measure was adopted was a highly encouraging step in the right direction.
The catch reductions that were adopted primarily target the gears that have the biggest impact on the marine environment, notably drifting gillnets and purse seiners fishing around dFADs. The measure also attempts to balance the needs of developing coastal countries with the need for conservation, which is always a difficult trade-off. Ultimately, the fishing pressure on yellowfin will be reduced, which demonstrates that the IOTC is a management body that can respond when stocks are in trouble. Importantly, the yellowfin measure calls for another stock assessment by the end of this year, which the IPNLF hopes will incorporate a larger data set, including records from the Maldives.
“These management agreements will contribute towards a sustainable future for the region’s coastal communities and these globally important tuna fisheries, for which the IOTC deserves enormous credit,” says Adam Baske, Director for Policy & Outreach for the International Pole & Line Foundation.
Baske continues, “It was inspiring to see the IOTC coastal member states working closely together to ensure a positive future for their shared resource. In particular, the Maldives and Kenya took a lead role in progressing negotiations at this year’s meeting.”
Indeed, Dr Mohamed Shainee, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture for the Maldives, went to great lengths to be in La Réunion to support his country’s negotiators. He began the week in Bangkok at the 14th Annual Infofish World Tuna Conference 2016, where he collected the Appreciation Award, given to the Ministry in recognition of the efforts it has taken towards a sustainable tuna industry, but still ensured that he arrived at the IOTC meeting in good time for the crucial dialogue sessions.
The decisions made by the IOTC owe a lot to the hard work of these countries as well as the endeavours of IPNLF, which has spent many months preparing for the meeting. Key IPNLF team members also provided crucial on-the-ground advice and support during the negotiations to ensure that management measures were introduced for these tuna fisheries.
IPNLF was also extremely encouraged by the unprecedented level of support given throughout these important talks from the industry, NGOs and market players, including many of the IPNLF’s supply chain Members.