US effort on transshipment, labor, and stateless vessels measures results in ICCAT action

U.S. Commissioner to ICCAT and Director of NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection Alexa Cole led a U.S. effort to address sustainability issues at the most-recent ICCAT meeting.

The annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) wrapped up on 23 November, 2021, with some notable decisions: a ban on retaining shortfin mako shark bycatch in the North Atlantic and an increase in the Western Atlantic bluefin tuna quota. There were also significant achievements at the meeting of the regional fishery management organization (RFMO) pertaining to illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and labor conditions that received less coverage, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Communications Specialist Katie Wagner.

Wagner said unanimous approval is required for measures to be adopted at RFMOs, so compromise is required to enact any measure put before them. Nevertheless, the United States led an effort resulting in the successful adoption of an updated transshipment measure, Wagner said. The new ICCAT transshipment measure creates an ICCAT record of carrier vessels authorized to receive tuna and tuna-like species and other species caught in association with these fisheries in the ICCAT convention area. The also require an International Maritime Organization (IMO) number for inclusion on the authorized list of carrier vessels, use of a vessel monitoring system (VMS) for carrier vessels, and that all relevant information on transshipment activities be provided promptly to flag states, relevant coastal states, and the ICCAT Secretariat.

“Enhanced reporting requirements for ICCAT parties will ensure that detailed information is available to allow for the cross-checking of transshipment reports between information reported by the fishing vessels and by the carrier vessels,” Wagner said.

The new measure is also linked to the recommendation by ICCAT on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing to ensure port states and other relevant inspection authorities have the information they need on transshipment activities.

Wagner said another U.S. proposal, on the issue of forced labor, led to the establishment of a working group to address labor standards in ICCAT fisheries.

NOAA’s Report to Congress on Human Trafficking in the Seafood Supply Chain for fiscal year 2020 noted illegal or unjust employment and recruitment practices, dependency on distant-water fisheries, and weak regulatory and governance programs (such as those of flags of convenience states) as risk factors for abusive labor conditions.

Additionally, a proposal on vessels without nationality, which Wagner said was originally a proposal that the United States developed intersessionally, was adopted. It clarifies ICCAT’s definition of stateless vessels and specifies that such vessels are subject to action consistent with the ICCAT Convention and international law.

Regarding enforcement, the National Plan of Action of the United States of America to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported Fishing authorizes the U.S. to seize high-seas driftnet vessels, while the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the High Seas Fishing Compliance Act authorize the U.S. to prosecute vessels without nationality found on the high seas violating any international conservation and management measure recognized by the United States.

The United States also co-sponsored a proposal with the European Union amending the ICCAT Authorized Vessel List to require submission of large-scale fishing vessels’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) numbers in order for them to be included on the ICCAT authorized vessel list. Such a list allows the limitation of market access to only those products taken by authorized vessels.

Vessels without nationality fishing or supporting fishing operations in the ICCAT Convention Area are deemed to be operating in contravention of the ICCAT Convention and undermining ICCAT's conservation and management measures. Any fishing or related support activities in the ICCAT Convention area by vessels without nationality are deemed to be IUU fishing, are a serious violation of ICCAT conservation and management measures, and will be subject to action consistent with relevant national and international law and pursuant to measures adopted by the Commission.

ICCAT also amended its IUU vessel list measure to update and expand the definition of IUU fishing, consistent with the new stateless vessel measure.

One area where the U.S. did not get its way was on tropical tuna quotas. ICCAT negotiations on tropical tunas were difficult, as some parties wished to increase quotas to reflect new scientific advice, while others preferred to maintain current quotas. Ultimately, the commission struck a compromise among various parties to extend conservation and management measures for tropical tunas in 2022 that include an increase in the total allowable catch for Atlantic bigeye tuna from 61,500 metric tons (MT) to 62,000 MT and a slightly shortened Atlantic-wide closure of fishing on fish aggregating devices to protect juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tuna.

U.S. Commissioner to ICCAT and Director of NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection Alexa Cole said in press release following the meeting she was pleased with the outcome.

“Negotiations on this measure were very challenging and a last-minute compromise avoided an unacceptable lapse in management for the fishery," Cole said.

Such a lapse nearly occurred in the region managed by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), which ended its December 2020 meeting without reaching agreement ontropical tuna management. A later special session reached agreement on rolling over existing quotas.

Photo courtesy of NOAA


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