"Groundbreaking" limits agreed upon for Indian Ocean skipjack tuna

Published on
May 27, 2016

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission adopted harvest control rules for skipjack tuna on 26 May at its annual meeting in La Reunion, a decision jointly lauded by some industry groups and many environmental organizations.

The new rules include the identification of target levels of fishing to keep skipjack tuna populations from falling below dangerously low levels. They also call for a reduction of the use of fish-aggregating devices, ban the use of aerial vehicles, including drones, to find tuna schools and prohibit the use of lights at night to attract tuna.

“The adoption of this harvest control measure is a groundbreaking moment in the responsible management of tuna fisheries globally,” Marine Stewardship Council Chief Executive Rupert Howes said.

Skipjack is the world’s most-consumed type of tuna, with around 3 million metric tons harvested each year. About a quarter of that catch comes from the Indian Ocean and is overseen by the IOTC, which is composed of the ocean’s coastal countries and countries that have a large tuna fishing fleet operating in the Indian Ocean.

The Maldives, which has an economy that is largely dependent on pole-and-line tuna fishing, led the push for the new rules framework for skipjack.

According to the WWF, “After years of hard work, supported by WWF and other NGOs and partners, the small island nation of the Maldives faced the greatest test of their resolve to improve management of tuna by the IOTC. Backed by a majority of coastal states, the Maldives delegates demanded a vote on their proposal, an audacious move in a group where decisions are traditionally reached by consensus. Facing the prospect of an unwinnable vote, holdout nations acquiesced and the historically significant proposal was adopted to loud applause.”

While the decision to preemptively create harvest control rules for skipjack before any possible population collapse could occur was lauded, environmental groups were frustrated by the lack of a similar agreement on yellowfin tuna, which they claim is overfished and in need of better regulation.

“Action still needs to be taken to rebuild overfished yellowfin tuna stocks, and the IPNLF will continue to work with others to achieve this,” said Martin Purves, the fisheries development director of the International Pole and Line Foundation.

The World Wildlife Fund said discussions took place regarding addressing yellowfin tuna stocks, but the lack of consensus between coastal states and nations that dispatch industrial fleets to harvest tuna in the Indian Ocean sunk efforts to create an agreement.

As a result, “The yellowfin tuna stock, much of it destined for the E.U. market, is now in danger of collapse within a few short years if no action is taken,” the organization said in a statement.

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