Bolton Group: Atlantic needs tuna harvest controls

Published on
May 6, 2022
A fisherman's tuna catch hangs at a dock.

One of Europe’s biggest stakeholders in the tuna sector is calling for more pre-agreed, science-based decisions and automatic mechanisms to manage tuna stocks in order to establish greater stability and predictability in the complicated supply chain.

Milan, Italy-based Bolton Food Group represents more than 10 percent of the global canned-tuna market, employing more than 15,000 people at 15 plants. The main problem the company faces is a lack of rules governing tuna fishing and tuna fishers, according to the firm’s sustainable development manager, Héctor Fernández.

“This affects the stability that is required for the tuna sector,” said Fernández, who was participating in an industry webinar held to urge the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) to implement science-based harvest strategies for the stocks it manages, including Atlantic bluefin tuna. The meeting was co-hosted by The Pew Charitable Trusts, Global Tuna Alliance (GTA), Tuna Protection Alliance (TUPA), and HarvestStrategies.Org.

“[It] is linked to having harvest control strategies instead of a reactive response approach,” Fernández said. “No management can be based on reaction; it must be anticipated. To manage is to foresee. And if you don’t have harvest strategies in place, what’s going to trigger the decision-making process in the RFMOs – a catastrophe?”

Fernández said harvest control rules should be more ordered to account for the complexity of the tuna supply chain.

“Everything needs to be systematic – such as the frequency of the stock assessment – to give the scientists a voice and to agree what the harvest strategies will be,” he said. “Let’s decide specific goals and let the scientists make the models that take into account complex factors – economic, environmental, social, etcetera, so that we know the best way to achieve them.”

Without harvest strategies, tuna management in international organizations, including the RFMOs, will fail, Fernández said.

“We welcome the adoption of complete harvest strategies for Northern Atlantic albacore – the first time that ICAAT has adopted a full harvest strategy,” he said. “But we do have to understand that harvest strategies are not something that we wish to be implemented; they are critical for the long-term sustainability of fisheries, stocks, and populations.”

To be effective from an operational perspective, Fernández said harvest strategies need to contain specific indicators, numbers, and the limit reference points for stock abundance. They should also describe the pre-agreed actions.

“What’s very important is that when we are not on target, the response is automatic. And rather than meeting to try and find consensus on difficult decisions and running the risk of being irrational, we have already foreseen how to act and what limitations need to be applied when something does happen,” he said.

Other RFMOs handling tuna quotas emphasize the issues that Fernández highlighted. The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) grappled with vote disputes on fish aggregating devices for months. A yellowfin tuna stock-rebuilding plan the IOTC adopted in 2021, due to overfishing of the stocks, was subsequently objected to by India, Oman, Iran, Madagascar, and Indonesia – which effectively renders them unaffected by the resolution. 

GTA Executive Director Tom Pickerell told the webinar that implementation of harvest strategies will show that ICCAT is serious about its commitment to sustainable management.

While the alliance does not work on bluefin, adoption this year of Atlantic bluefin tuna will pave the way for other stocks in need of similar management, such as skipjack, yellowfin, and bigeye tunas, he said.

“The stocks are OK, but the management is lacking, and that’s what’s holding these fisheries back,” Pickerell said. “Most, if not all, seafood supply-chain companies are looking beyond absolute numbers of fish. It’s all well and good having a healthy stock today, but will we have it tomorrow? That’s not guaranteed if you don’t have robust management in place.”

ICCAT will meet 14 to 21 November, 2022, to discuss an Atlantic bluefin tuna harvest strategy plan.  

Photo courtesy of Dolores M. Harvey/Shutterstock

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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