WWF: Historic measures agreed to save Indian Ocean tuna
“This is the first time a tuna fisheries commission has adopted harvest control rules before the stock has collapsed,” said Dr Wetjens Dimmlich, WWF’s Head of Delegation at the meeting.
This decision is a credit to the foresight of IOTC members. This is a major step towards preserving the skipjack tuna stocks in the Indian Ocean.”
Of great significance for the seafood industry were discussions on measures to address overfishing of yellowfin stocks which resulted in agreed steps to reduce catches of one of the most important stocks managed by the IOTC.
There has been no effective control exercised and few, if any, conservation measures agreed on by member states to ensure sustainable harvest of tuna stocks during the 20 year history of the IOTC. In fact, catch limits recommended annually by the IOTC’s own scientists have been totally ignored while catches continued to increase year after year. Unsurprisingly, the yellowfin tuna stock, much of it destined for the EU market, is now in danger of collapse within a few short years if no action is taken.
The discussion on what these actions might be seemed destined to remain unresolved as divisions opened between the coastal states of the Indian Ocean and the nations which dispatch their industrial fleets to harvest the tuna from the high seas. Only in the last moments of the final day did the delegates finally reach agreement on a range of measures which are hoped to reduce the catches of yellowfin and allow the stocks to begin to recover.
“It is also pleasing to note the speed at which the IOTC have been able to agree to reduce their yellowfin catch in response to the Scientific Committee advice. We now hope all members will make every effort to develop an effective recovery plan”, said Dr Dimmlich.
In the weeks leading to the meeting, WWF and key national and international seafood businesses joined in calling on the Commission to reduce catches of yellowfin tuna and introduce harvest control rules (HCRs) necessary to ensure the sustainability of all Indian Ocean tuna stocks, including skipjack. With the clear support of such a broad cross section of the tuna fishing community, the IOTC commissioners had the incentive necessary to respond to this call for action.
A heated debate surrounded the much anticipated proposal to introduce harvest control rules for the skipjack fishery. The purpose of these ‘rules’ are to prevent serious depletion of skipjack stocks by requiring a gradual and early reduction of fishing in response to declines in the abundance of skipjack tuna. After years of hard work, supported by WWF and other NGOs and partners, the small island nation of the Maldives faced the greatest test of their resolve to improve management of tuna by the IOTC. Backed by a majority of coastal states, the Maldives delegates demanded a vote on their proposal, an audacious move in a group where decisions are traditionally reached by consensus. Facing the prospect of an unwinnable vote, holdout nations acquiesced and the historically significant proposal was adopted to loud applause.
Welcoming the adoption of harvest control rules for skipjack. Dr Wetjens Dimmlich, WWF’s Head of Delegation at the meeting said:
“WWF with other NGOs and partners have been working for a number of years supporting the Maldives in their efforts to introduce an HCR resolution to the IOTC and congratulate them on the tenacity and determination that has brought them such success.”
A number of other proposals were adopted, also with the intention of reducing fishing effort. These included bans on the use of aerial vehicles, including drones, to find tuna schools, and in the use of lights at night which attract tuna and reductions in the number of FADs. WWF hopes that future negotiations will build on the successes of this 20th Session of the IOTC to produce equitable solutions to rebuilding depleted yellowfin stocks and the effective management of all tuna species.
For more detailed information:
- Wetjens Dimmlich, Indian Ocean Tuna Programme Manager, WWF-Smart Fishing Initiative firstname.lastname@example.org, Mobile: +248 254 1116
- Daniel Suddaby, Deputy Leader, WWF-Smart Fishing Initiative.email@example.com
Note to editors:
The IOTC 20th Session took place from 23 May - 27 May in St Denis, La Reunion, France. The IOTC is responsible for the conservation and management of tuna and tuna-like species in the Indian Ocean.