RFMOs moving toward an increase in bluefin tuna TAC

Regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs) that regulate Pacific bluefin tuna have moved closer to adopting a catch increase.

Regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs) that regulate Pacific bluefin tuna have moved closer to adopting a catch increase, based on an improved outlook for meeting stock recovery goals.

During its 5-7 October electronic meeting, the Northern Committee (NC) of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) approved, by consensus, the recommendation of the sixth Joint IATTC and WCPFC-NC Working Group Meeting on the Management of Pacific Bluefin Tuna (JWG06).

The WCPFC and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) manage Pacific bluefin tuna and shark stocks in the west and central, and eastern parts of the Pacific, respectively. The JWG06 meeting, held online 27 to 29 July, recommended that the RFMOs partially approve a Japanese proposal to increase the total allowable catch (TAC) for the species. Japan cited a recovery trend in the stock of adult fish with spawning ability, called “spawning stock biomass,” and proposed a 20 percent increase for both adults and juveniles.

The working group endorsed scientific committee projections based on current management and low recruitment that indicated a 100 percent chance of reaching the initial stock-rebuilding target by 2024, but recommended a more cautious 15 percent increase in the catch limit for adults over 30 kilograms and no change for juveniles.

At the subsequent 23 to 27 August meeting of the full commission of IATTC, the United States submitted a proposal reflecting the recommendations of JWG06, but the parties didn’t reach a consensus agreement on specific details in the new language. That language was hashed out in preparation for the recent NC meeting.

With the NC meeting having approved the new conservation measure, the next hurdle is the IATTC full commission meeting between 13 and 22 October 2021. If approved at that meeting, it is likely that it will also be approved at the 18th Regular Session of the Commission of the WCPFC, to be held online from 29 November to 7 December. The U.S. representative at the NC said the United States will only support the change at the WCPFC if it were also passed at the IATTC.

Grantly Galland, the senior officer of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ International Fisheries Project, vocally opposed the increase.

"Despite Pacific bluefin being the most depleted tuna species and scientific advice that says to keep catch levels where they are, governments have agreed to changes that could increase catches of this iconic species by more than 30 percent next year.  This is combined with a lack of progress toward developing a set of carefully tested long-term rules that would ensure the sustainability of Pacific bluefin management decisions,” he said. “This risky decision to focus on increasing short-term catch threatens Pacific bluefin and those dependent on strong yields in the future. Governments across the Pacific should renew their commitment to improved management and focus on the long-term health, stability, and profitability of Pacific bluefin fisheries.”

Meanwhile, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) upgraded the stock status of four tuna species on 4 September. Pacific bluefin tuna’s status on the IUCN Red List, which classifies wildlife according to the risk of extinction, was improved from “endangered” to “near-threatened.” It also upgraded Atlantic bluefin to a “species of least concern.”

“Although some may tout the IUCN upgrade as good news, it provides a false sense of security and could lead to further depletion of western Atlantic bluefin. While the eastern population of the species has grown over the years, the western Atlantic stock remains highly depleted, and is in danger of disappearing altogether,” Galland said. “Reduced by over 85 percent of its historic size, the western Atlantic bluefin continues to suffer from mismanagement. In recent years, the United States has relaxed protections for western bluefin in the Gulf of Mexico and [ICCAT], which manages both stocks of Atlantic bluefin, has taken a series of risk-prone and misguided decisions. Without implementation of a long-term, science-based management plan, the future of western Atlantic bluefin is far from assured. The U.S., Canada, and international community must take action to recover the western Atlantic bluefin via adoption of a long-term harvest strategy and show that they are serious about the conservation of this iconic, billion-dollar fish.”

Photo courtesy of Eleonora de Sabata - Blue Planet Archive/The Pew Charitable Trusts


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