Make or break time for the IOTC

As the IOTC meetings approach, Adam Baske reflects on the Indian Ocean's need for improved tuna management for continued, long-term sustainability.
Indian Ocean Tuna Commission - RFMO

On May 23, policymakers from 32 countries will gather on the small island of Réunion in the middle of the Indian Ocean for the annual meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). Their collective mission is to sustainably manage the region’s multi-billion dollar tuna fishery - no easy feat!! Fishing for certain tuna species has spiked in recent years to meet the demand for tuna – which is higher then ever in order to feed a growing population. In December 2015, scientists determined that Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna stocks are overfished, and other tuna species could go in that direction if immediate action is not taken at the meeting in Réunion.

The threats to sustainability in the Indian Ocean are significant, and this means that the fishing communities that IPNLF works with are under threat if IOTC does not act. In the Maldives for instance, one-by-one tuna fisheries are a critical aspect of the culture, economy, and diet, accounting for some 30,000 livelihoods. At IPNLF, we’ve been preparing for this meeting since early 2016 to ensure that the commission adopt a strict Harvest Control Rule (HCR) for skipjack and take immediate action to rebuild the Indian Ocean tuna stocks. We helped organise a workshop for IOTC coastal states to discuss the importance of a harvest control rule for skipjack tuna and have amplified this call for IOTC action via our supply chain network, and by reaching out to delegations to build support for critical management improvements at the upcoming meeting. 

So far, coastal states have rallied around a proposal to adopt a harvest control rule for skipjack tuna, which builds on years of science and evaluation. Industry players, like purse seine fishing companies, are calling for the adoption this harvest control rule. Market players, including large European retailers and suppliers, have directly asked for the European delegation to support action on skipjack and yellowfin as well. Other NGOs, including Pew, Greenpeace, and WWF are all calling for the IOTC to act along these lines.   

This level of coordination is unprecedented, not only for the Indian Ocean, but for any major tuna fishery management meeting. While there is a perfect storm of support coalescing on Réunion, we cannot guarantee that the HCR and other important measures will be adopted. Some of the major players still have not expressed their support, so we will need to continue to work every avenue at our disposal, both on-the-ground, and from afar. IPNLF is committed to securing sound management for the fisheries that coastal communities depend on, and we hope the collective efforts of our members and others will pay off.

We will keep you posted from Réunion. Be sure to follow us on Twitter for updates.