IOTC tuna harvest controls, FAD limits controversial

Controversy over tuna harvest controls, fish aggregating devices (FADs) and shark fin removal dominated discussions during last week’s Indian Ocean Tuna Commission meeting in Busan, Korea.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) criticized the IOTC resolution on addressing marlin overfishing, its decision to table skipjack tuna harvest proposals, along with the defeat of proposals to prohibit the removal of shark fins. Meanwhile, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) praised IOTC’s efforts to address IUU fishing, FAD limits and data collection.

“The expansion of the IOTC vessel monitoring system (VMS) resolution from vessels greater than 15 meters to all vessels on the high seas is a significant step forward. VMS is critical to the fight against IUU fishing and for the proper management of fisheries,” Susan Jackson, president of ISSF, told SeafoodSource.

However, WWF executives are concerned about the IOTC’s decision to table harvest control resolutions on skipjack tuna until possibly next year.

“Comments from some IOTC members who question moves to improve the management of tuna fisheries, on the grounds that stocks are currently doing well, are extremely concerning,” said Wetjens Dimmlich, WWF’s Indian Ocean tuna program manager. “If they wait until there is a crisis before taking action, then they’ve waited too long.”

While WWF acknowledges that the tuna fishery is not yet overexploited, “scientists say this honeymoon period is ending, with catches increasing rapidly,” according to a WWF statement.

However, Jackson noted some incremental progress in the IOTC’s tuna resolution. “We are optimistic that this debate signaled a sincere willingness of

IOTC members to continue to move toward the adoption and implementation of species-specific harvest control rules in the near term,” Jackson said.

“The commission, based upon scientific advice, has directed the IOTC Science Committee to use maximum sustainable yield-based reference points. “
WWF is also concerned over the IOTC’s “high limits” set for FADs. The IOTC agreed to set the maximum number of instrumented buoys active and followed by any purse seine vessels including associated or independent supply vessel(s) at 550 instrumented buoys at any one time.

“This is almost triple the limits proposed last year,” Dimmlich said. “It would appear that this figure has been agreed on based on industry influence, rather than any precautionary approach based on fish stock or ecosystem considerations.”

“It is uncertain if the limit chosen represents some optimal level or not,” Jackson added. “It is extremely important that all IOTC members provide complete data on FAD utilization.”

Meanwhile, in IOTC Resolution 15/05, the commisson encouraged members to try to reduce current level of catches of blue marlin, black marlin and striped marlin, and to ask respective fishing vessels to release any fish caught alive.

“Obviously, this will have little or no effect on the fishing on these species and is a worrying sign of what may happen should the all-important tuna stocks also require some action in the future,” Dimmlich said.

ISSF praised IOTC’s renewed data collection efforts, as the commission agreed to amend the existing resolutions on catch and effort data by requiring reporting of silky shark catches by longline vessels. However, passing the resolution is “only half the battle,” according to Jackson.

“We must again stress the need for IOTC members to actually provide accurate and timely catch and effort data for all fisheries to the commission,” Jackson said. “Due to the failure of countries to comply with their data reporting obligations, the current lack of catch and effort data available for IOTC stock assessments generates significant uncertainty regarding the stock status and future prospects for the stocks.”


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