IATTC meeting defers decision on proposed bluefin harvest increase

Tuna lined up at the Tsukiji market in Tokyo, Japan

The regional fishery management organization that sets tuna harvest-limits in the Eastern Pacific Ocean once again deferred a decision on the Pacific bluefin harvest after failing to reach consensus on the details of a proposed increase.

At the 23 to 27 August meeting of the full commission of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) a proposal by the United States reflecting the recommendations of the online 27 to 29 July Sixth Joint Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission Northern Committee Working Group Meeting was taken up, but the parties didn’t reach a consensus agreement on specific details in the new language. As a result, the IATTC gave itself more time to negotiate the details before another full commission meeting in October 2021.

The delay will also allow the IATTC to see what action its counterpart, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), will take. The proposal still needs to go through the Northern Committee, which will happen in October – before the IATTC meeting. If the WCPFC proposal is successful in the Northern Committee meeting, it will proceed to a full WCPFC meeting in December.

Most of the members of the joint working group are members of both commissions, making it likely that the two will vote together.

The Japanese delegation submitted a proposal at the sixth Joint Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission Northern Committee Working Group Meeting on Pacific Bluefin Tuna Management to increase the total allowable catch for the species by 20 percent. It has unsuccessfully submitted the same proposal – in slightly different forms – for several years running.

“The surprise was that based on the exact same advice that they had last year, they had an outcome that was essentially the polar opposite,” said Grantly Galland, an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ international fisheries team. The Pew Charitable Trusts’ holds observer status at the meeting.

The most-recent stock assessment was in 2020. At the previous meeting of the IATTC, using the same data, the proposed increase was rejected. This time, at the 27 to 29 July online meeting, the committee recommended a 15 percent increase for fish over 30 kilograms.

In principle, an increase should be allowed, as the harvest strategy that is in place to rebuild the stock of bluefin sets trigger points that have been met. If the likelihood that the target for spawning stock biomass (SSB) can be reached by 2024 is lower than 60 percent, the harvest is reduced. If the likelihood is 75 percent or more, the harvest can be increased.

According to a report submitted at the 23 to 27 August meeting of the IATTC titled “Temperate tunas: Pacific bluefin and North Pacific albacore – The fishery in 2020, stack status and staff’s recommendations for management,” the stock has gradually rebuilt since 2011 – largely on the strength of a high 2016 recruitment estimate in the 2020 stock assessment. Based on current management and even with low recruitment going forward, the probability of reaching the initial target was projected to be 100 percent, and the probability of reaching a second target within 10 years after reaching the first target, or by 2034, was 99 percent.

The recommendation has some additional provisions beyond an increase in Pacific bluefin over 30 kilograms. For parties that do not have a large fish catch-limit, an additional 30 metric tons would be allowed in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO), and 200 metric tons in the case of the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO).  

A conversion factor of 0.68 can be applied to 10 percent of the limit for small fish. The idea behind the conversion is that the same weight in large fish is made up of a smaller number of fish, so fishing small fish has a greater effect on the stock. Parties without a large fish catch-limit can apply the conversion to 25 percent of the limit. Up to 17 percent of the catch limit could be carried over to the next year if unused in the WCPO, while the EPO uses a biannual carryover.

Galland said he took issue with the figures being used for the new recommendations.

“Recent recruitment has been extremely low – historically low. And those projections that show a high likelihood of success are based on a historical average of recruitment that is much higher than recent recruitment or influx of new juveniles,” Galland said. “And that’s concerning to us, because that’s making some assumptions that so far we haven’t seen on the water.”

The recommendations of the joint working group are just that – recommendations. It is up to the general meetings of the WCPFC and the IATTC to make the actual decisions for their respective areas.

While Galland doesn’t agree with the recommendation, he said he is pleased the RFMOs are working together.

“The joint working group is new within the last five or six years – this year was the sixth. This is something that should be celebrated, because bluefin swim across the ocean. They range from Japan to California, all the way down to New Zealand,” Galland said. “So having them be managed by the WCPFC in the west and completely independently from the eastern Pacific RFMO, the IATTC, was a big cause of continued decline – because these two commissions are completely independent and manage one side of the ocean and the other side of the ocean, based on a line drawn on the map. So we were quite supportive and celebrative that these two commissions were willing to get together in a joint working group to discuss bluefin management.”  

Photo courtesy of Carl.Salisbury/Shutterstock


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