NGOs urge action at ICCAT annual meeting

A purse-seine fishing vessel.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is holding its annual meeting 14 to 21 November in a hybrid format, both virtually and in person in Vale do Lobo, Portugal.

In the run-up to the meeting, the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF) and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) separately published position statements, detailing their requests to the regional fishery management organization. IPNLF promotes sustainable management of responsible pole-and-line, handline, and troll tuna fisheries while safeguarding the livelihoods they support. ISSF is a global coalition of seafood companies, fisheries experts, scientific and environmental organizations, and vessel operators that promotes science-based initiatives for long-term tuna conservation, fish-aggregating device (FAD) management, bycatch mitigation, marine ecosystem health, capacity management, and illegal fishing prevention.


IPNLF is also asking the committee to adopt a precautionary total allowable catch (TAC) for bigeye tuna, despite some signs of a stock recovery, in line with the advice of the ICCAT Standing Committee on Research and Statistics; and to implement a harvest control rule (HCR) for bigeye based on the latest stock assessment. It is also encouraging the commission to look at adopting HCRs for other tropical tunas.

IPNLF also supports an equitable catch allocation that covers all contracting parties to the convention, with an emphasis on protecting the rights of small-scale fisheries in developing coastal states; and to not tie a more-equitable catch distribution to increases into the TAC. IPNLF supports an allocation table proposed by Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Sao Tomé and Principe, and Senegal.

As background to this issue, an organization called CAOPA (African Confederation of Artisanal Fisheries Organizations) has urged a change in the allocation of fishing access rights for tuna by moving away from the system of historical rights to meet the aspirations of developing countries, while rewarding countries that practice sustainable fishing.

“Most current mechanisms for granting access rights rely heavily in part on what are called ‘historical rights,’ that is to say, captures historically declared by states that have the capacity to exploit the fishery resources, including on the high seas. However, those major fishing nations that have these historical rights are far from having fulfilled their obligations to exploit resources sustainably. Moreover, these mechanisms, based on historical rights, do not recognize the aspirations of developing countries to benefit more from tuna fishing, in particular to provide access to their local fishing communities, including artisanal,” CAOPA said in a 2018 statement issued to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. “Coastal countries that have been essentially shut out of tuna fishing are reluctant to set limits on mortality and fishing capacity and other rules of conservation and management without guarantee that there is a new allocation system that takes into account their aspirations. They fear – and their fear is justified – that those who currently have the largest share of access are trying to keep it.”


IPNLF has urged the commission to prepare an HCR for yellowfin tuna ahead of the stock assessment provisionally planned for 2023, develop and implement a yellowfin allocation table that includes all contracting parties, and to ensure the 2023 stock assessment is carried out as scheduled.

The TAC for Atlantic yellowfin tuna has been exceeded for several consecutive years, most notably in 2020, when catches were 35 percent over TAC. To prevent the stock from becoming overfished, the IPNLF encourages the commission to strengthen conservation and management measures to prevent catches beyond the TAC, with consequences for overcatch.

“Because there were no full allocations by fishing gear or by flag-state, those members with over-catches could not always be identified,” ISSF President Susan Jackson said. “This situation must be addressed.”

ISSF additionally supports adopting minimum standards for electronic monitoring by 2023. It wants to require 100 percent observer coverage (human or electronic) for all major ICCAT fisheries and all vessels engaged in at-sea transshipment by 2024.

Drifting FADs

IPNLF is urging the commission to implement more precautionary limits on the total number of drifting FADs allowed to be deployed between 2023 and 2027, due to the increased juvenile catches they cause. It is also asking ICCAT to maintain or extend the recently created 72-day FAD closure; to develop and adopt a FAD-marking scheme by 2023 for all new FAD deployments, regardless of vessel type, which would require that FADs be consistently carry identification marks on both the buoy and the FAD structure; to implement a FAD register within 2023; to mandate that all drifting FADs deployed must be non-entangling by prohibiting netting or other meshed materials, and constructed completely from biodegradable materials (except for the buoy), while requiring vessels to retrieve any drifting FADs that do not meet these requirements.

Jackson said her organization was further urging the commission to review the status of FAD data and to address noncompliance, as some of the historical data submitted is incomplete.

“The incomplete submission of required FAD data has persisted since 2014, hindering needed scientific analyses for the development of limits on FAD sets or deployments,” she said. “The failure to provide these data is unacceptable, and ICCAT must take corrective action.” 

ISSF has asked ICCAT to adopt a rule requiring the collection of FAD position and acoustic data for scientific use. It has also requested the ICCAT Compliance Committee address noncompliance with FAD data-reporting requirements and to develop audit points for ICCAT measures.

Bluefin and sharks

IPNLF further encouraged commission to adopt a management procedure for Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks.  A “management procedure” is a simulation-tested set of rules used to determine management actions, in which the data, assessment methods, and the harvest control rules for implementing management actions are pre-specified.

IPNLF has asked the commission to maintain a retention ban for North Atlantic mako sharks adopted in 2021, which expires in 2023. IPNLF also supports a proposal by the European Union to include the South Atlantic mako shark stock in its retention ban. In addition, IPNLF has asked ICCAT to adopt a policy that fins should be naturally attached on all retained shark species without exception.

Photo courtesy of ICCAT


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