Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna stocks may collapse without better regulation | WWF

Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna stocks may collapse without better regulation

Posted on
27 April 2016
Over 30 IOTC member states will be in attendance at the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission's  important annual meeting (IOTC S20), which will take place from 23-27 May in La Reunion, France. The participating countries range from small Indian Ocean coastal states to fishing powerhouses such as Japan and the European Union (EU). Together, they must decide whether to adopt important conservation measures which will improve the management of their shared tuna stocks.

Dr Wetjens Dimmlich,  Indian Ocean Tuna Programme Manager for WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative (SFI), and WWF’s head of delegation explains what is at stake at this important meeting.

What will be the key issues likely to be discussed at IOTC S20? 
The burning issue likely to take center stage this May will be the shock change last year of the status of yellowfin tuna from ‘green’ to ‘red’ along with a prediction by the IOTC Scientific Committee of a stock collapse within just a few years if fishing continues at recent high levels. The IOTC has struggled in the past to respond to issues with some of the other species they manage, but this is the first time for one of the high profile key species that make up a significant and valuable proportion of exports from the region. IOTC members will need to implement some measures which will stop the overfishing and start to rebuild the depleted stocks.
Unfortunately we find ourselves in this position as, until now, there have been no controls available to the IOTC on the exploitation of tuna stocks. Well-managed fisheries have well defined rules in place that trigger early response to signs of change in stocks and can head off the need for drastic measures after the damage has already been done. For this reason the second key issue that the delegates need to consider is the adoption of these rules for other key species, as well as for yellowfin. Hopefully the delegates have the foresight to adopt these ‘rules’ and avoid similar dire situations for skipjack, bigeye and other species the IOTC is responsible for.

What are the main obstacles to the proposals being adopted? 
The usual! Self-interest, greed, fear, uncertainty and doubt -  to name a few. Unfortunately there is little we can do for the first two obstacles in that list, but over the last three years WWF and partners have supported a number of initiatives to dispel uncertainty about what is expected of sustainable management by an RFMO such as the IOTC. These include a series of workshops attended by almost all of the coastal states where international fisheries experts have explained in detail the principles underlying sustainable, effective management of fish stocks. As a result many coastal states now feel able to engage effectively on these issues and in fact some of these are now really leading the way at the IOTC. It remains now for the others to step up and deliver a sustainably managed fishery to the industries and communities which look to the delegates to act with their interests at heart, and this simply does mean supporting proposals addressing the issues above.

Who supports WWF asks for the IOTC conference and how?
It’s a long list which is growing rapidly. Of course anyone who wants to see one of this region’s most valuable resources managed sustainably certainly supports the need to take immediate action on yellowfin and also to adopt harvest control rules which other fisheries have shown helps to prevent stocks reaching such a critical state. Increasingly we are seeing support from broad sectors of the fishing industry who understand that without healthy stocks of tuna, their business will suffer. Recently WWF partnered with OPAGAC, a powerful force in the Spanish fishing industry in order to work together to improve management of tuna fisheries and we also are very encouraged by support from nearly 40 of the largest seafood companies and supermarkets in Europe who have united in calling for action to be taken to assure supply of sustainable tuna to consumers. Most notably, increasing numbers of Indian Ocean coastal states are engaging on these issues and are also either supporting proposals for new conservation measures or even preparing their own proposals for the consideration of the Commission.

What are WWF's main asks for this meeting?
We certainly understand that the members of the IOTC are diverse in culture, language and interests in the tuna industry. However, our main ask is that they look beyond these differences toward ensuring that the one thing they all have in common, a dependence on a shared tuna resource for the livelihoods of their communities and industries, is not threatened through a continued lack of effective fisheries management.

WWF asks that coastal states who have not prepared their own proposals give support to those that have, in order to achieve the much needed consensus required for the adoption of proposed conservation measures. In particular we also remind IOTC members who have any connection to fisheries or industry that exports or imports tuna to the EU that the market there is increasingly calling for sustainably managed product and they have a clear vested interest in supporting proposals improving the management of tuna in order to meet this growing demand

Importantly, we ask that each member give consideration to what they can do to address the overfishing issue and not simply point the finger of blame at others or wait for someone else to take the first step. WWF, other NGO’s and our partners are working to ensure many of these other states will also in future be able to meet the challenges of managing their fisheries, but they do need good examples to follow.
To demonstrate that the Indian Ocean tuna fisheries are on the path sustainable management, the IOTC must adopt effective measures in May to rebuild the Indian Ocean yellowfin stock. If the IOTC Commissioners fail this test and remain unresponsive to the diminished state of the yellowfin stock, any claim of sustainability of Indian Ocean tuna stocks is blatantly flawed.

Finally, WWF asks that the Commission take the opportunity presented by the proposals being tabled by some of its members to mark its 20th anniversary through taking the first steps toward a sustainable tuna industry.

For more information please contact Wetjens Dimmlich,
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