ICCAT keeps bigeye catch limit, to conservationists’ dismay

Published on
November 20, 2018

Conservationists left Croatia on Monday, 19 November, expressing disappointment that the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna did not pass any measure to protect the stock of bigeye tuna.

Instead, commission members ended their meeting in Croatia's capital of Dubrovnik maintaining the status quo; a catch limit of 65,000 metric tons for the 2019 season, despite an ICCAT scientific committee reporting that the Atlantic bigeye is severely overfished.

Grantly Galland, a global tuna conservation for The Pew Charitable Trusts, said it was a difficult eight days. 

“Everyone is to blame for this one,” he told SeafoodSource. “Each individual member is more concerned about its own priorities than finding consensus on a real recovery plan.”

The current biomass is currently at 20 percent of its historical peak, Galland said. In order to generate the maximum sustainable yield, the biomass needs to be at least at 59 percent. 

Because of the inaction, Galland fears the bigeye tuna issue will only get exponentially worse. Pew said the current catch rate means the stock is 60 times more likely to collapse instead of rebuild in the next 15 years.

Galland wasn’t alone in criticizing the body.

"Science demands a sharp reduction in the catch of bigeye tuna, but over the past decade this advice has been ignored," Simon Cripps, director of WWF's International Marine Program, told British newspaper The Telegraph. "Once again the high seas are being fished out, and unless global intervention is effective, important fish stocks will be lost forever." 

Action may not even happen next year, Galland said. An assessment on bigeye isn’t expected to happen before 2021 at the earliest, based on member proposals, Galland said.

Bigeye wasn’t the only stock discussed. Galland said commission members also ignored scientific advice on the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin stock. ICCAT ended closed seasons for longline fisheries and expanded purse seine seasons. Also, vessels that bring in bluefin as bycatch will be able to keep and market it.

Those steps will likely lead to a population decline on that valuable bluefin stock, Galland said. So, when ICCAT convenes next year, there may be two vital stocks that need attention.

“We have many concerns moving forward,” Galland said. “Many questions. Not many answers.”

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