ICCAT raises bluefin catch quota, protects sharks, adopts harvest strategy

ICCAT approved increases to the total allowable catch (TAC) of bluefin and bigeye at its annual meeting,

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), approved increases to the total allowable catch (TAC) of bluefin and bigeye at its annual meeting, which ended Tuesday, 23 November.

ICCAT is the regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) responsible for conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas, including the Mediterranean. ICCAT fishery managers agreed to raise the Atlantic bluefin TAC for the western side of the Atlantic by 376 MT, or 16 percent, from 2,350 MT to 2,726 MT, as the 2021 western Atlantic bluefin tuna stock assessment estimates that the total biomass has increased by 9 percent between 2017 and 2020. This was a reversal from the 2020 meeting, when discussions revolved around reducing the total allowable catch.  TAC for the eastern Atlantic is unchanged. The total quota for Atlantic bluefin tuna for 2022 will be 3,483 MT.

Japan’s Fisheries Agency said that the country’s quota in the western Atlantic will rise by 257 metric tons (MT) from a year earlier, from 407 MT, while that for the eastern side remains at 2,819 MT. However, the figures for Japan can be reduced as the U.S. and Canada use allocations of up to 25 and 15 MT, respectively, for bycatch from longline fisheries in vicinity of the management area boundary. While other parties have fixed allocations, Japan’s is adjusted according to how much of the U.S. and Canadian bycatch allocation is used.

Not including adjustments for these allocations, the allocations for the western Atlantic are: United States, 1,316 MT; Canada, 543 MT; Japan, 664 MT; United Kingdom (via Bermuda), 6 MT; France (via St. Pierre and Miquelon), 6 MT; and Mexico, 149 MT. The latter three countries have the option of transferring some of their quota to Canada (in the case of Mexico and France) or the U.S. (in the case of the U.K.) for the purpose of scientific studies.

Stocks of bigeye tuna have also recovered and the total allowable catch was increased by 500 MT to 62,000 MT, but the Japanese quota remained the same at 13,980 MT.

Mako shark protections

ICCAT fishery managers earlier agreed that, in 2022 and 2023, all retention of shortfin mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus) will be prohibited in the North Atlantic. The ban will even apply to sharks that are dead when brought onto vessels – these must be wasted in order to avoid giving an economic incentive for catching them.

However, the European Union, which took 74 percent of the 2020 North Atlantic shortfin mako catch, insisted on including a formula regarding interim mortality to determine if limited retention in some fisheries might be allowed in the future. Starting from 2023, ICCAT scientists will look into the possible retention of a limited amount of dead shortfin mako sharks and identify options for closing fisheries in certain areas or periods and the adoption other bycatch mitigation measures, provided they does not impair the recovery of the species.

Shannon Arnold, the marine program coordinator for Ecology Action Centre, a non-profit environmental organization based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada said the move is critical to the preservation of mako shark populations in the Atlantic.

“We congratulate Canada, the U.K., Senegal, and Gabon for leading the charge to secure this historic, science-based protection for endangered shortfin mako sharks. We celebrate this critical step today, mindful that the fight to bolster it begins tomorrow. It is crystal clear from these negotiations that the E.U. remains focused on reviving exploitation as soon as possible," Arnold said. "To prevent shenanigans and backsliding in 2024, we need even more countries at the table fighting back with equal vigor to rebuild the population.”

Both the shortfin mako and the closely related longfin mako (Isurus paucus) are classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as globally endangered. Subsequent listings on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) require countries to demonstrate that mako exports are sourced from legal, sustainable fisheries. The new measure directs scientists to examine catch trends for longfin mako, which remain unprotected outside U.S. waters.

Other environmental NGOs also heralded the move by ICCAT, including The Shark Trust and Shark Advocates International, which coordinate with Ecology Action Centre through an umbrella group called The Shark League. World Wildlife Fund Fisheries Project Manager Alessandro Buzzi said the ban is the first rebuilding program for a shark or ray species ever adopted by a tuna-focused regional fisheries management organization.

ICCAT did not limit South Atlantic shortfin mako catches, but did agree to allocate a total catch limit for South Atlantic blue sharks as 2022. A proposal to strengthen an ICCAT finning ban by prohibiting at-sea removal of fins was blocked by Japan.

Albacore harvest strategy

ICCAT adopted a full harvest strategy for North Atlantic albacore. It was the first time ICCAT had approved a full harvest strategy. Harvest strategies provide pre-agreed frameworks for making fisheries management decisions, shifting the RFMO’s perspective from short-term, reactive decision-making to longer-term objectives, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts Senior Officer for International Fisheries Grantly Galland.

“In particular, the adoption of its first full harvest strategy marks the beginning of a new era for ICCAT with a move to transparent, inclusive management,” he said. “ICCAT and other RFMOs should replicate this success by moving to immediately adopt similar strategies for other commercially important stocks such as bluefin, tropical tunas, and swordfish.”

Other measures

WWFs Buzzi also praised ICCAT’s adoption of a rebuilding plan for Mediterranean albacore, which is classified as overfished, and the decision to address what he referred to as “existing weaknesses” in the control system for bluefin tuna, especially regarding farming activities.

“In addition, the adoption of new measures to strengthen the monitoring of transshipment activities is a positive move towards tackling illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing and illegal trade of tuna, sharks, and other pelagic species,” Buzzi said. “WWF regrets that ICCAT parties decided to increase fishing quotas for bigeye tuna while the stock has just started recovering. [It] also decided to reduce the closure of fish-aggregating devices from three months to 72 days, increasing the risk of juvenile catches for bigeye and yellowfin tuna.” 

FADs had been a priority item for another NGO, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.

“Improved management measures for the use of fish-aggregating devices (FADs) in tuna fisheries continually tops our list of RFMO ‘asks,’” ISSF Vice President of Policy and Outreach Holly Koehler said. “Our appeal to ICCAT this year was no different. While the commission did not make substantial progress on FADs that answered our requests – the use of biodegradable materials, as well as FAD-recovery policies, marking schemes, and ownership rules, among others – we are pleased that FAD provisions within the tropical tuna measure were maintained.”

Koehler said her group will continue to push for FAD reform at the ICCAT’s next annual meeting. "Overall, there is much more work to do on FAD management at ICCAT in 2022.”

Photo courtesy of ICCAT


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