Better management of drifting fish aggregating devices used by industrial purse seine fleets is needed urgently in tuna fisheries across the globe, but especially in the Indian Ocean where yellowfin tuna is overfished and subject to continued overfishing due, in part, to the millions of juvenile fish caught around these devices each year.

At the 25th Session of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) in June 2021, a proposal (PropE_Rev2) to improve the management of drifting fish aggregating devices (dFADs) in the region was submitted by Kenya and co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mozambique, Pakistan, Somalia, South Africa, Indonesia and Tanzania. Despite clear appetite on the part of many coastal states for the proposal to be adopted, the European Union, Japan and Korea, among others, objected to the proposal, resulting in a vote being called.

Controversy surrounding the vote began with the European Union calling for a secret ballot in place of the usual hand-raising voting mechanism. There were 12 votes in favour of the resolution, five votes against and two votes of abstention. The controversy continued when the IOTC Secretariat erroneously counted the abstentions as “votes cast”, implying that the required two-thirds majority had not been reached. It was agreed that the Secretariat would contact the FAO Legal Office for clarity on this matter.

Following the conclusion of the session, it became clear that abstentions do not count towards the total number of votes, meaning that a two-thirds majority was reached and that the dFAD resolution – PropE_Rev2 – put forward by Kenya should have been adopted by the IOTC. However, because of some alleged irregularities in the voting process, a Special Session of the IOTC has been called to decide the validity of the vote taken, and will take place on 29 November.

BLUE and International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF) urge the IOTC and its members to adopt PropE_Rev2 at the Special Session on the basis that a two-thirds majority was reached in June and that improved dFAD management in the Indian Ocean is needed as a matter of urgency to save the yellowfin tuna stock from further decline. Should a revote be called, we call on all IOTC members to vote in favour of this important resolution.

BLUE’s Minimum Requirements for Responsible Drifting FAD Use, presented to the IOTC FAD Working Group last month and endorsed by over 120 businesses and organisations including IPNLF, summarises the harmful impacts that dFADs have on fish stocks and the marine environment, as well as the steps that should be taken to mitigate these impacts. The adoption of PropE_Rev2 would be a significant first step towards responsible dFAD management in the Indian Ocean.