Ensure an effective and precautionary approach to managing Atlantic Bigeye Tuna

June 2022

Whilst the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF) remain encouraged by efforts to rebuild the Atlantic bigeye tuna stock, it recognises that progress has been delayed in all tRFMOs due to impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Therefore, IPNLF hopes that the upcoming hybrid meeting of Panel 1 will offer an opportunity to make further progress. Atlantic bigeye tuna are a nutritionally and economically important species across the tropical Atlantic Ocean, particularly for many artisanal and small-scale tuna fishing communities throughout the region.

According to the 2021 ICCAT Standing Committee of Research and Statistics (SCRS) report on bigeye, the Atlantic bigeye tuna stock remains overfished and was subject to overfishing until 2019 when the commission introduced a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of 62,500 t. This TAC has been further reduced to 62,000 t in 2022 which offers the stock an 81% chance of the stock not being overfished and overfishing not occurring for the year 2022. This is a good step forward in terms of rebuilding the bigeye stock. In order to ensure maximum long-term gains from these efforts, IPNLF urge ICCAT to resist pressure to increase catches and, instead, take a precautionary approach that will ensure effective stock rebuilding as soon as possible.

Bigeye tuna, Thunnus obesus. Hunting sardines on South Africa sardine run. This fish can grow up to 2,5 m in length and a maximum exceeding 180 kg.


Furthermore, since catches of bigeye tuna have regularly exceeded TAC in the last decade, it is important that the TAC set by ICCAT is complied with by all parties. Whilst catches did not exceed the TAC in 2020 for the first time in 5 years, the prior trend raises concerns around compliance and the resultant effectiveness of efforts to rebuild this stock.

A critical component of supporting stock rebuilding remains in improving the management of drifting fish aggregating devices (dFADs). The use of such devices leads to high proportions of juvenile tropical tuna within purse seine catches, while also contributing to ghost fishing, pollution and direct habitat damage which is notably driven by the fact that dFADs of entangling and non-biodegradable designs continue to be deployed and abandoned on an industrial scale. Positive data signals should already be available to evidence compliance with, and the effectiveness of, ICCAT’s oceanwide dFAD closure. Purse seine fleets using dFADs should proactively and transparently submit data of their dFAD use and resultant harvests to enable science-based management of these devices and the damage they cause as soon as possible.


Effective management of drifting fish aggregating devices (dFADs)

To ensure the best chance of recovery for overfished stocks, it’s vitally important to implement effective management of drifting fish aggregating devices (dFADs) while addressing the wider environmental and ecosystem impacts associated with them. Therefore, moving forwards, to secure effective management and stock rebuilding strategies, ICCAT should bring together complementary precautionary TACs and effective dFAD management.

ICCAT has taken well-needed steps in recent years to introduce regulations around dFADs, such as a reduction in the number of dFADs each vessel can deploy from 500 to 300 and the annual 72-day dFAD closure between January and March. However, IPNLF maintains its agreement with concerns put forward by the US in PA1-24 (2021), and reiterated again this year, that “the current provisions of Rec. 19-02, including the current three-month Atlantic-wide FAD closure and 300 FAD-per-vessel limit, may not go far enough to protect juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tuna.” We support the 3-month dFAD closure but suggest that more measures are necessary to adequately protect the development of juvenile tuna in the Atlantic.

Regarding the current limits of 300 dFADs with operational buoys at any one time in paragraph 30 of ICCAT Rec 21-01, we suggest that a publicly available dFAD Register be implemented to transparently track activities and compliance with this measure. The dFAD Register should emulate that which was proposed by Kenya to the IOTC and will help improve the transparency of dFAD fishery operations.

In addition to maintaining the current FAD closure, it is crucial that supplementary measures be implemented. We urge ICCAT to develop ways of ensuring and assessing if the FAD closure has been effective and adjusting the closure as needed to effectively reduce juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tuna fishing mortality. Within this, ensuring compliance with such dFAD measures is essential to their success, while the burden of evidencing compliance and sustainability should fall to the industrial purse seine fleets receiving the required data from their dFADs in near real time via satellite. In support of tracking dFAD deployment rates as well as dFAD designs, as suggested by the EU in previous discussions, IPNLF supports the idea of implementing a regional observer scheme to support efficient compliance monitoring.


Equitable allocation

IPNLF urges the ICCAT to recognise how allocation processes can place a disproportionate conservation burden upon developing coastal States and the small-scale, low-impact fisheries that have sustainably provided critical nutrition and livelihood support to their citizens for generations. Fishing opportunities should prioritise the critical daily needs of reliant coastal communities over multinational fishing company profits as much as feasible. We therefore call for ICCAT to apply all of its own allocation criteria (Resolution 15-13), thereby ensuring equitable and just allocation that aligns with the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) when allocating bigeye and yellowfin tuna quotas this year.

Fishing community in Cape Verde (c) Pepe Brix

While rebuilding of the Atlantic bigeye tuna stock is crucial, it is important that small-scale fisheries’ crucial daily contributions to coastal States’ livelihoods are duly recognised during the process of improving the management of tropical tuna fisheries. As highlighted by Brazil in PA1-03, the artisanal, small-scale tuna fisheries are an ‘essential economic activity due to the socioeconomic and food security importance to vulnerable communities’ and therefore, ‘supporting this value chain is essential during this critical moment’. We do not feel that their value has been reflected in the allocation process in recent years with large proportions of the bigeye and yellowfin quotas being allocated to industrial purse seine and longline fleets. Inequitable catch limits hinder the ability of small-scale fleets, like one-by-one fishers, to support and develop their communities.

One-by-one tuna fisheries (handline, pole-and-line, troll) provide essential jobs and recirculate wealth back into local economies in some of the most isolated regions of the Atlantic Ocean. They also represent ancient traditions of cultural importance while supplying a healthy and sustainably-caught source of protein and livelihoods to the coastal state citizens in greatest need. The fact that bigeye tuna remains overfished is concerning and threatens food security as well as the resilience of coastal livelihoods to climate change, pandemics and other future shocks.


The ICCAT Convention Area is home to many one-by-one tuna fisheries, including pole-and-line (baitboat), troll, and handline fisheries harvesting temperate and tropical Atlantic tuna in at least sixteen Atlantic coastal States. All require sustainable management of internationally shared fish stocks by ICCAT to support their fisheries and reliant communities.

The International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF), an international charity that supports responsible one-by-one tuna fisheries and the communities, businesses and seas connected to them, is one of the founding members of the Outermost Regions Advisory Council (CC RUP or ORAC); this council recommends measures for the responsible management of fishery resources in the outermost regions of the EU. These regions include islands, archipelagos and land territories in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean basin and the Indian Ocean.

The International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF) promotes the sustainable management of the world’s responsible pole-and-line, handline and troll (collectively known as ‘one-by-one’) tuna fisheries while also recognising the importance of safeguarding the livelihoods they support.

IPNLF’s work to develop, support and promote one-by-one tuna fisheries is fully aligned with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We believe effective and equitable global governance is essential to protect and restore the ocean, and this should be achieved by ensuring the recognition of local and coastal communities’ needs in decision-making processes.

Environmental sustainability in tuna fisheries can only be fully achieved by also putting an end to the overfishing and excessively destructive fishing practices that are driving the degradation of already threatened marine species, habitats and ecosystems. Allied with its members, IPNLF demonstrates the value of one-by-one caught tuna to consumers, policymakers and throughout the supply chain. IPNLF works across science, policy and the seafood sector, using an evidence-based, solutions-focused approach with strategic guidance from our Board of Trustees and advice from our Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC) and Market Advisory Group (MAG).

IPNLF was officially registered in the United Kingdom in 2012 (Charity 1145586), with branch offices in the UK, South Africa, Indonesia, The Netherlands, and the Maldives.


Emilia Dyer, IPNLF Policy Manager – emilia.dyer@ipnlf.org