Pew’s Esther Wozniak reviews IATTC’s albacore harvest strategy, longline observer proposal

Esther Wozniak, a manager for international fisheries at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), a regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) responsible for the conservation and sustainable management of tuna and tuna-like species in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, held its annual meeting from 7 to 11 August in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. 

At the meeting, the RFMO approved a harvest strategy for the North Pacific albacore, a move that nonprofit groups like The Pew Charitable Trusts have urged for years. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), another RFMO that jointly manages North Pacific albacore stocks with the IATTC, now has the chance to pass similar rules at its annual meeting in December that would result in the first-ever Pacific-wide harvest strategy.

Esther Wozniak is a manager for international fisheries at The Pew Charitable Trusts and attended the IATTC’s annual meeting as an observer. In an interview with SeafoodSource, Wozniak discussed the meeting’s outcomes and her thoughts on what the seafood industry can expect from these RFMOs shortly.

SeafoodSource: At the annual meeting, the IATTC approved harvest control rules for North Pacific albacore. Can we assume that the WCPFC will now approve a similar measure at its annual meeting in December?

Wozniak: Yes, but I’ve been working with RFMOs long enough to know that nothing is certain. For this, it does feel like a lot of the foundation has been laid for it, starting from the Northern Committee [of the WCPFC], where there was [initial] agreement on this text. Then, we’ve seen the IATTC follow through. So really, it is up to the WCPFC to get this across the finish line.

That is the hope, but we are making sure that everyone’s still on board and nothing feels new. We know coming into these meetings that if folks didn’t catch one paragraph, for example, and they’re just not comfortable moving forward, that’s years of progress delayed potentially by another year.

SeafoodSource: The final revision of a proposal on the IATTC website would be the one the RFMO would finally adopt, correct?

Wozniak: Correct, but this year, the IATTC made progress on a majority of the measures. Because [North] Pacific albacore was agreed to ahead of time, it coasted through, and this year’s agenda was left open for a bunch of other measures to be adopted, including a vessel monitoring system. [Measures on] sharks eventually got adopted as well. There was a bluefin proposal that was adopted – from Japan and the U.S., and there was even a [mahi] measure that was adopted, which caught a lot of us by surprise. The IATTC did a phenomenal job of plowing through all of those proposals and making progress.

I think that the two main ones that didn’t get any traction – and we were disappointed in – [concerned] South Pacific albacore and longline observers.

Ecuador has come forward with a proposal [for longline observers] I think five years in a row now – if not Ecuador then Colombia – but usually [the IATTC] will table a proposal to increase observer coverage for longline vessels. It’s currently [at] 5 percent, and it usually dies very quickly on the floor. In the past, they’ve incorporated an incremental increase, so maybe 10 percent by 2026 … I think a lot of the Asian fishing nations aren’t comfortable agreeing to anything until electronic monitoring [EM] standards are adopted. 

To that end, we have an EM working group that’s been established that has two co-chairs – someone from Ecuador and someone from the U.S. We’re hoping that by next year, they have EM standards adopted so that we can finally open this conversation about increasing observer coverage for longliners.

SeafoodSource: The Global Tuna Alliances said there was an unsatisfactory aspect of the shark measure regarding the attachment of the fins. What was that about?

Wozniak: This year, there were a total of six shark proposals. A Canadian proposal was set up as the flagship proposal, where a lot of different countries came together and made progress on different elements. We were hoping to see “fins naturally attached, period.” as the focus, but there had to be some flexibility to get some Asian distant-water fishing nations on board. There were three options: You can have fins with the same carcass in a bag, you can have the fins attached by a rope, [or you can have] a tagging system, where you have the carcass and the fin with a specific tag so you can make sure it’s the same.

The other thing that wasn’t clear is [whether] this was temporary or long term. That’s the point the Global Tuna Alliance and some other NGOs weren’t clear on and were a little worried about. This text is very similar to what the WCPFC adopted, and there’s also some ambiguity there about whether it’s a phase-out [plan] or if this is temporary and then after that, things can go back to how it was.

Our biggest concern would be [about] high-grading. [In other words,] how do we know how many sharks you caught if you caught a bigger shark and you kept that fin that would bring more money but saved the carcass for another one that took up less space? So, the idea would be [for the phrasing to include] “No finning, period.”

SeafoodSource: Were there also recommendations for fish aggregating devices [FADs]?

Wozniak: Yes, [the IATTC] made a lot of progress on FADs. The main things were non-entangling FADs by 2026 and biodegradable FADs by 2029. It seems a long time away, but it’s a commitment that would at least seem to phase out the non-fully biodegradable FADs. Then, there’s also agreement that fishing vessels – not just purse-seiners – can retrieve FADs, and there’s a FAD retrieval process that will be initiated.

SeafoodSource: Is it a concern at these types of meetings that an RFMO takes too long hashing out many competing measures on the same topic and never passes anything?

Wozniak: With the IATTC, they do a good job at the very beginning – the first day before we all get bogged down with budget discussions. They open up all the proposals, and each proponent country will give an overview of what it is. Then, the chair will say, “OK, you’re talking about sharks, and you’re talking about sharks. At the next coffee break, get together and come up with a combined version.”

We spent about half the meeting talking about the budget, and that’s tough. However, this year, the IATTC agreed to have a full-time staff member who would just focus on harvest strategies and management strategy evaluation [MSE] work. That was useful because that sets up the bigeye [tuna] measure that goes in in 2024. Now, the IATTC will have a full-time staff member who works on that, and the bigeye MSE is going to lay the foundation for yellowfin and other species after that.

Photo courtesy of The Pew Charitable Trusts


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