Progress on Harvest Strategies at IOTC 22 essential to better management of Indian Ocean tuna

ISSF, WWF and IPNLF highlight the urgent need to further develop harvest strategies for key tuna stocks in the Indian Ocean

The development and adoption of harvest strategies has been central to IPNLF, ISSF and WWF tuna engagement for the better part of the past decade.

Recently, a letter signed by 118 fishing companies, fisheries associations, and civil society organisations was sent to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), outlining key management improvements needed to ensure a viable future for all stakeholders and a healthy marine environment — and harvest strategies was chief among the asks of this diverse group. 

As we prepare to attend the annual meeting of the IOTC, we remain concerned about the stalled progress of harvest strategies for all species within the Commission’s purview.

Why Harvest Strategies?

As the IOTC membership acknowledged through its adoption of the skipjack harvest control rule resolution in 2016, harvest strategies are an essential tool for effective fisheries management. They also form a primary component of the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) sustainable fishery Standard, which is an important yardstick for a number of fisheries involved in Fishery Improvement Projects (FIP) and/or MSC certification. 

Let’s first briefly review what a harvest strategy is:

  • A harvest strategy outlines the pre-agreed rules for the management of a specific stock, including the action to take if the stock falls below prescribed biological levels
  • It must take account of the biology, ecology, social and economic conditions relevant to the stock and the fishery, respectively
  • A robust harvest strategy requires significant time and resources to evaluate data, identify and evaluate various management strategies, agree on acceptable risk levels and model potential harvest scenarios

It is critical to recall that many species of tuna provide an essential and primary source of protein to local communities in developing coastal and island States throughout the Indian Ocean rim. Given the levels of uncertainty around catch levels, it is even more critical that the IOTC continue to progress the development and implementation of harvest strategies consistent with its agreed workplan. And this work should be extended to all tuna and billfish species in the Indian Ocean.

Some progress, but more needed

So, has the IOTC been able to progress its essential work on harvest strategies in the past 12 months? Yes, the Working Party on Methods and a range of national scientists continue to advance this aspect of the work. This includes for yellowfin, bigeye and albacore tunas and for swordfish. But further progress is needed to refine the adopted skipjack harvest strategy, and the process has not started for some of the other coastal tuna species.  

The stalled progress with harvest strategies is especially concerning given the IOTC Scientific Committee reports on overfished species, many of which are critical to food security and livelihoods throughout out the region.

While it is good to see the scientific work continue, it is vital that the Commission allocate sufficient funds to ensure that there is timely progression of this work stream, which all parties agree is critically important. Unfortunately, only US $5,000 of the 2019 IOTC Operating Budget is earmarked to support the work for swordfish, and there is only a request for extra budgetary contributions to support the continuation of the yellowfin and bigeye work. It’s true that there are many competing areas that need financial support from the IOTC, but the development and implementation of harvest strategies should be at the top of that list.

We collectively implore IOTC members to recognize the importance of this work to ensure that the fisheries in the region can continue to provide reliable jobs, consistent supply of food, and viable business and development opportunities throughout the region.   

All RFMOs must continue to progress the development of harvest strategies in accordance with their agreed workplans to ensure they carry out their mandates to sustainably manage tuna resources for the long term. We look forward to continued collaboration in calling for such action and in offering our many resources and tools to support RFMOs in their progressive efforts.


This blog was co-authored by Adam Baske is Director, Policy & Outreach, International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF); Claire van der Geest leads ISSF’s policy engagement in the IOTC; and Umair Shahid works in Marine Conservation at WWF-Pakistan and was originally featured on the ISSF blog here.