The Pew Charitable Trusts is urging regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs) to adopt a harvest strategy and harvest control rule for North Pacific albacore to prevent the possibility of future overfishing.
North Pacific albacore is the fish that sparked the explosive growth of the cannery industry in the U.S. state of California in the early 20th century, and made canned tuna a mainstay product in U.S. grocery stores. The fishery is managed jointly by two RFMOs, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
The IATTC is meeting from 1 to 5 August to discuss northern albacore. Canada has put forth a proposal to adopt a harvest strategy, but the proposal stops short of including a clear harvest control rule that is triggered automatically. Harvest control rules are pre-agreed guidelines that determine allowable catch based on indicators of the targeted stock's status based on monitoring data and models. They are designed to be automatic to exclude political and economic considerations that sometimes water down the scientific recommendations – such as the ongoing quota disputes that led to the Marine Stewardship Council withdrawing certification for certain Northeast Atlantic species.
While there is no harvest strategy yet in the Pacific, a harvest strategy for north Atlantic albacore has already been fully implemented by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The Pew Charitable Trusts Senior Officer for RFMO Policy Grantly Galland said that the Atlantic rules are a model that the IATTC could build around.
“It is working wonderfully. ICCAT does have more work to do because there is no harvest strategy in place for the South Atlantic or Mediterranean stocks, but the North Atlantic stock is very well managed,” Galland said. “IATTC should work to include an HCR into Canada’s proposal and then adopt it right away. Then management here would be as strong as in the North Atlantic and it would put the pressure on WCPFC to act next.”
The WCPFC takes its management data from the same International Scientific Committee (ISC) as the ICCAT. The two RFMOs aim to work in concert with one another, so an action by one often leads to a similar action by the other, Galland said. WCPFC has scheduled meetings in September and December 2022.
Key to a successful harvest strategy is a management strategy evaluation, a tool that scientists and managers use to model and test whether proposed harvest strategies or management procedures can achieve pre-agreed management objectives across a range of conditions. Galland said that an MSE for North Pacific albacore was completed last year by ISC scientists.
“It was meant to be used jointly by both the IATTC and the WCPFC,” Galland said. “Therefore, both commissions could act today to implement one of the already-tested harvest strategies (including reference points, HCR, etcetera), so there is no reason to delay.”
In addition to Canada’s proposal at the IATTC meeting for the northern stock, there is a proposal from Ecuador to manage the South Pacific albacore stock.
“Currently, there is no management of this stock at IATTC, and the catch is growing, so that it becomes a bigger issue every year,” Galland said. “This proposal should certainly be supported by the commission to correct this oversight. Pew also hopes and anticipates that efforts to adopt a harvest strategy for South Pacific albacore at the WCPFC will restart their momentum later this year and into next year.”
The main parties that participate in the northern albacore fishery are Japan, the U.S., Canada, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Mexico, and Vanuatu. Longline, troll, and pole-and-line fishing are used in the fishery.
Besides its position on albacore, in its official statement ahead of the 100th IATTC meeting, Pew also encouraged the commission to increase oversight of transshipment and continue to improve its compliance process.
A proposal from the European Union would reform transshipment management in the IATTC convention area, following the lead of other RFMOs for the Atlantic (ICCAT) and the Indian Ocean (IOTC). These have improved transshipment oversight, closed reporting loopholes, and reduced the likelihood of noncompliance through management measures.
IATTC held a compliance workshop in June 2022. A proposal from the E.U. would codify some of these discussions into a formal resolution. Specifically, Pew encourages a process to grade the severity of different types of infractions, which would help to ensure that the limited time and resources enforcement agencies have are directed to the most-pressing issues. Additionally, a series of three expert workshops were hosted by Pew and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) in 2020 and 2021 to examine the major challenges experienced within RFMO compliance review mechanisms, and resulted in RFMO compliance recommendations.
Pew also encourages adopting proposals on protections for sharks, on a vessel registry, and a proposal to increase observer coverage on longline vessels to at least 20 percent that also creates a working group to develop an electronic monitoring program.
Photo courtesy of The Pew Charitable Trusts