ICCAT lowers catch limit, reduces FADs for bigeye tuna

Published on
November 29, 2019

At its annual meeting earlier this week, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas took steps to reduce fishing effort for bigeye tuna.

The regional fisheries management organization lowered the total allowable catch for bigeye tuna in 2020 and 2021 from 62,500 metric tons (MT) to 61,500 MT, and reduced the allowed maximum number of fish aggregating devices (FADs) from 500 to 350 in 2020 and to 300 2021. It also implemented a FAD fishing closure period for the entire Atlantic area for two months in 2020 and three months in 2021. In addition, ICCAT increased coverage by its observer program from 5 percent to 10 percent and moved to develop minimum standards for electronic monitoring.

The organization’s actions drew criticism from both Europêche, which represents European fishing companies, and environmental non-governmental organization The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“While these measures aim to reduce the fishing mortality of juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tuna, Europêche regrets the unequal treatment of these measures, which mainly concern European purse-seiners, which represent less than 30 percent of catches of bigeye tuna in the Atlantic,” Europêche President Javier Garat said in a press release. “In stark contrast to the European Union, some ICCAT contracting parties, in particular Asian countries which account for almost 50 percent of the total catches, objected to the adoption of any measure aimed at ensuring adequate control, monitoring, and reduction of juvenile catches.”

In a press release following its meeting on 26 November, ICCAT said “a wave of cooperation allowed for significant improvements in the discussions and the adoption of a new multi-annual conservation and management program for tropical tunas.”

But The Pew Charitable Trusts said the measures taken by the organization did not go far enough in protecting the Atlantic bigeye tuna from overfishing.

“After its failure to take precautionary, science-based steps to rebuild Atlantic bigeye tuna last year, ICCAT had another opportunity this year to show that it is serious about delivering its mandate to appropriately manage and conserve this stock. The measure adopted at this year’s meeting may reduce the catch of juvenile tuna, but the overall catch limit still remains too high to support recovery of this overfished stock. It is of concern that once again ICCAT has failed to take adequate action for this species, and effectively punted the decision to 2020,” Grantly Galland, an officer for Pew’s international fisheries team, said in a press release. “The only way that ICCAT can end these yearly fights over quotas is to implement a science-based system of harvest strategies, pre-agreed measures that will set catch limits based on science, and not political battles. We urge ICCAT to move towards these measures as quickly as possible.”

Pew did commend ICCAT for adopting a catch limit on blue shark of 39,102 MT the North Atlantic and 28,923 MT for the South Atlantic in 2020, marking the first time any regional fisheries management organization has established annual TACs for a shark species. And Pew praised ICCAT’s setting a catch limit of 1,670 MT for blue marlin and 355 MT for white marlin.

“That should allow these overfished billfishes to recover within the next 10 years,” it said.

Also at its meeting, ICCAT set a total allowable catch of 110,000 MT for yellowfin tuna in 2020, with a new stock assessment being prepared that will allow for an update on the status of the species to be disseminated at the organization’s 2020 meeting.

Photo courtesy of Europêche

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