Slow progress towards tuna conservation in the Eastern Pacific Ocean



Posted on 18 June 2013  | 
tuna in purse seine net
© © Hélène PETIT/ WWF-Canon Enlarge
WWF welcomes the adoption of several conservation and management measures for tropical tunas in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) (1) on Friday last week.

“These measures will considerably reduce tuna fishing mortality in the region, preserving tuna stocks at the level of maximum sustainable yield (2),” said Pablo Guerrero, Eastern Pacific Ocean Tuna Coordinator of WWF’s Smart Fishing Initiative. They include a ban of 62 days per year and a month long closure for purse seiners to enter a large marine area in the west of the Galapagos Islands, called “El Corralito”. The measures will become mandatory for all industrial type tuna purse seiners and longline vessels over 24 meters in length operating in this region.  The IATTC also decided to set a limit of 5000 tonnes for catches of bluefin tuna in the Eastern Pacific and to adopt measures for Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD), which include data collection, and an FAD identification programme as well as the adoption of so-called ecological FAD. These are designed to reduce the entanglement of sharks and sea turtles. WWF applauded also a ban on purse seine hauls around living whale sharks, which is a significant step to protect these species.

On the less positive side, WWF criticized the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission´s failure to adopt important conservation measures especially for hammerhead sharks, a globally endangered species that is affected by tuna fishing operations. The Commission ignored the advice of its Scientific Advisory Committee and did not adopt measures for silky sharks, even though the number of these species is in decline. The IATTC did not make it mandatory for fleets operating in the EPO and capturing sharks to unload them with their fins naturally attached, although this could easily be done during fishing operations. The IATTC also refused to adopt specific reference points (3) and harvest control rules (4) for tuna in the region, as recommended by its Scientific Advisory Committee. These tools have demonstrated to be successful in managing fisheries sustainably. The implementation of these measures would have allowed fisheries managers to act swiftly and efficiently to ensure that harvests do not exceed acceptable limits and ensure a sustainable and consistent supply of tuna to our markets. The adoption of rules of harvest control is a key aspect of modern fisheries management. WWF insists that the IATTC adopts these measures as soon as possible.

Another subject of great concern was the debate around the issue of fishing capacity operating in the EPO. Several countries with tuna purse seine fleets continued to request an increase in capacity, despite being aware that excessive fishing and overcapacity could lead to overexploitation of tuna stocks, hence a loss of economic performance of the fishery. WWF demands better control and serious and technical treatment to the subject of fishing capacity as this could greatly affect tuna stocks in the EPO.


(1) The IATTC is responsible for the conservation and management of tuna and other marine resources in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The members of the IATTC are: Belize, Canada, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, European Union, France, Guatemala, Japan, Kiribati, Korea, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Chinese Taipei, United States, Vanuatu, Venezuela

(2) Maximum Sustainable Yield: is the maximum annual catch which on average can be taken year after year from a fish stock without deteriorating the productivity of the fish stock.

(3) Reference point: a benchmark value that helps managers decide how the fishery is performing and is based on an indicator such as fishery stock size or the level of fishing.  

(4) A harvest control rule is the pre-agreed management action taken in response to changes in the fishery and/or changes in abundance status in relation to reference points. 
tuna in purse seine net
© © Hélène PETIT/ WWF-Canon Enlarge

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