27th November 2019

This year’s crucial International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) negotiations in Palma de Mallorca concluded on 25 November with the landmark agreement by Contracting Parties to introduce a 15-year rebuilding plan for bigeye tuna, a species that’s currently being heavily overfished. Within this package, the adopted measures include a reduced total allowable catch (TAC), with a large number of countries needing to make significant cuts from their current catches; a stricter limit on the number of fish aggregating devices (FADs) permitted per vessel, as well as the addition of an Atlantic-wide FAD fishing closure. Although much work remains to be done to ensure the measures will be effective in meeting their conservation objectives, the adoption of this plan can be regarded as a historic step forward, and one that lays the groundwork for further improvements in the Atlantic Ocean. 

While the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) and other likeminded delegations can take comfort in a job well done and some favourable outcomes, there were certainly some heart-stopping moments in what was a difficult negotiating process, with many of us fearing this might be another year that ICCAT would fail to deliver.

Appropriately, this year’s negotiations focused on improving the management of overfished bigeye tuna. This species is of key importance to many artisanal and small-scale tuna fishing communities throughout the Atlantic. And it wasn’t until the last minute of the final day of the 10-day meeting, that countries significantly compromised from their original positions to deliver an agreement. Up to that point, it seemed that a green-light for the much-needed improved conservation and management measures would not be forthcoming.

While some of the initial proposals to implement more effective management were watered down in order to reach consensus, it was nevertheless crucial for progress to be made rather than having another year of stalled or derailed agreements. So, while the adopted rebuilding plan is not perfect, it’s very encouraging that ICCAT members were able to adopt measures proposed and endorsed by various developing coastal States.

At this year’s meeting, South Africa gracefully led negotiations, along with powerful support from, among others, Brazil, the European Union, and Senegal. This was further supported by a constructive proposal submitted by Gabon, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Senegal. Together, they were able to ensure that new measures were aligned with the advice from ICCAT’s scientific body (SCRS) while also recognising and respecting the specificalities and needs of small-scale fisheries and developing coastal States.

It is also important to highlight that a proposal submitted last year by South Africa, which was modified over the course of the past 12 months with the aim of finding agreement, was finally taken forward through a range of proposed amendments. Last, but by no means least, it’s encouraging that an Intersessional Meeting will be held in early 2020 to further review and refine the adopted measures. At that gathering, an important focus will be on developing country specific catch limits and associated catch verification mechanisms to improve accountability and compliance.

“South Africa is a founding Member of ICCAT and we are proud to have played an integral role to move a much-needed agreement forward while standing strong on ensuring equitable and responsible management of our common resources. We would like to thank all ICCAT Members for their flexibility, accepting South Africa’s leadership, and for finally adopting an improved management plan for tropical tunas. Hopefully this sets the stage for ensuring their populations will start flourishing and ultimately reach South Africa’s waters again.” 

Saasa Pheeha, South Africa’s Head of Delegation, and Director of Marine Resource Management at the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF)

“While much work still needs to be done to ensure that the disproportionate number of bigeye and yellowfin tuna juveniles caught by purse seine FAD fisheries will be reduced through effective monitoring and control of FAD measures, I am very pleased that ICCAT could agree on an Atlantic-wide FAD fishing closure and also reduce the number of FADs allowed per vessel. It is also fair that the largest catching countries, that contributed the most to overfishing, will need to take larger proportional cuts in their allowed catches.” 

Ibra Ndao, representative of the Senegal Pole-and-Line fleet (SERT)


“Being able to help like-minded delegations build sufficient momentum to get the historic result delivered on the final day of the annual ICCAT Meeting was an intense and beyond-rewarding journey. Working alongside such inspiring decision makers to drive forward this much-needed agreement – to start equitably rebuilding overfished bigeye tuna – has been a true honour. It was also fantastic to be in a position to help facilitate the increased participation of developing coastal States, and to ensure the voices of vulnerable and low-impact coastal tuna fisheries are heard. Of course, there remains much work to be done to fine-tune the adopted conservation and management measures, but it’s terrific to finally have a solid basis to further build upon.” 

Yaiza Dronkers, IPNLF Policy & Outreach Officer