Concerns emerge over IOTC delay of yellowfin tuna conservation plan

Published on
February 8, 2021

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) will maintain the status quo for the current yellowfin tuna conservation measures, barely three months after the organization had scheduled an emergency meeting for March 2021 to review its conservation plan.

In November 2020, the IOTC said its March 2021 meeting would focus on emerging trends of overfishing of yellowfin tuna, which delayed the stock's rebuilding plan. However, advice issued 29 January by the IOTC's scientific committee called on IOTC member-states to maintain the status quo until a new stock assessment is completed, likely to occur later this year.

Environmental organizations, including the Blue Marine Foundation (BMF), said maintaining current yellowfin tuna conservation guidelines could have a negative impact on the species in the Indian Ocean. BMF said the scientific committee's advice increases the likelihood that overfishing could continue through 2023 and increases the possibility the stock could collapse within the next five years due to overfishing.

“This advice was issued despite the chair of the scientific committee stating at the commission meeting in November that ‘no new advice on yellowfin tuna will be available until after the scientific committee meeting in December 2021,’ raising questions around the motivation behind the unexpected announcement,” BMF said.

BMF expressed concern over the findings of the IOTC Working Party and Scientific Committee Report, released after the committee’s 23rd Session – held in the Seychelles between 7 and 11 December, 2020. Specifically, it said the report included errors in projections of the 2018 yellowfin tuna stock assessments, which makes it “not suitable for use to provide management advice.”

“This means that, instead of aiming for a 20 percent catch reduction from 2017’s yellowfin catch total, as recommended by the 2018 stock assessment, and a subsequent new catch total of 327,654 metric tons [MT], IOTC member states will, at best, have to revert back to much older management advice that suggests only a 15 percent cut is needed from 2015’s baseline, presenting a new catch total of 346,438 MT,” BMF said.

BMF said the likely impact of the scientific committee’s recommendation is that yellowfin tuna catches could be capped at 403,000 MT, based on the 2018 stock assessment, until at least 2021. However, BMF said the previous scientific committee report “acknowledges that the catch total on which the 2018 stock assessment was based was 20 percent above the target and that total catches of yellowfin in 2019 increased by 5 percent from 2014 levels, despite the stock rebuilding plan having been in place since 2016.”

BMF said the committee’s advice could possibly compromise Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna populations. New stock assessments of the species will not be available until the end of 2021, requiring the IOTC wait until 2022 to adopt new management measures.

“If the IOTC cannot get its scientific models to function properly, then the answer is to adhere to the precautionary principle and reduce yellowfin catches, not to simply maintain the status quo that got us into this situation until more potentially flawed science can be carried out,” BMF Executive Director Charles Clover said.

number of retailers and food companies have announced they would be reducing the amount of yellowfin tuna that they are sourcing from the Indian Ocean until the issue is resolved.

International Seafood Sustainability Foundation President Susan Jackson said in an email the decision by IOTC to maintain the status quo on yellowfin conservation measures avoids “tackling much-needed reforms to ensure an effective rebuilding plan for vulnerable yellowfin tuna stocks.”

However, Jackson acknowledged global restrictions and lockdowns due to COVID-19 have disrupted the flow of relevant fishing data to regional fisheries management organizations and governments.

“The resulting data gap has significantly hampered their ability to more fully monitor, assess, and oversee fishing activities,” she said.  

Photo courtesy of the Blue Marine Foundation

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