Indian Ocean tuna commission fails again on tuna, does better with sharks

Posted on March, 05 2010

Closing to fishing an area already largely closed by pirates is a long way short of being meaningful fisheries management, WWF said at the conclusion of the annual meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) in Busan, Korea today.
Busan, Korea: Closing to fishing an area already largely closed by pirates is a long way short of being meaningful fisheries management, WWF said at the conclusion of the annual meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) in Busan, Korea today.

“The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission continues to lag well behind nearly every other comparable fisheries regulator in its failure to introduce catch limits for the commercial fish species under its control,” said Dr Amani Ngusaru, head of WWF’s Coastal East Africa Marine Programme.

“We have agreement on a catch limit for bigeye and yellowfin tuna, as recommended by the scientists and this is a big step forward for the IOTC. And we have a non-binding commitment that catch limits for the tuna resources of the Indian Ocean will be considered at the 2012 meeting, which could be a big step nowhere.”

“In the meantime, we have this laughable measure that an area off Somalia which is already largely off limits due to piracy will be closed to long-liners for a month and purse seiners for a month. Are we really serious about limiting fishing pressure on our already overfished stocks?”

But the IOTC did rather better on protecting sharks and seabirds.

“The vote to adopt a ban on commercial landing of endangered thresher sharks is not all we wanted in relation to sharks and to the trade in shark fins but it is a major advance for the commission,” Dr Ngusaru said.

“It also illustrates the truth of our assertion for all the world’s Regional Fisheries Management Organisations that they make better decisions when they vote on recommended fisheries management measures than when they race to the bottom trying to achieve a consensus.”

With studies showing that several endangered albatross and petrels were highly vulnerable to longline fishing in the Indian Ocean during their critical juvenile phase, the commission hardened seabird catch mitigation requirements for longline boats operating south of 25 degrees south.

Boats will now need to use two out of five recognised mitigation measures which include minimum light night operation, bird scaring lines, weighted branch lines and blue-dyed bait.

IOTC’s scientific community had warned contracting country parties that bigeye tuna catches should be limited to 110,000 tonnes and yellowfin tuna should be limited to 300,000 tonnes. But although the meeting accepted these recommendations, action to institute catch restrictions is to wait on a process of setting country allocations.

Another key measure not adopted was a Seychelles proposal for a ban on discards of Skipjack, Yellowfin and Big eye tuna from purse seine vessels. This would have reduced the carnage from the practice of trawlers “trading up” or discarding previous catches if better catches of higher value fish are found.

“Developing Indian ocean states were rightly upset about the failure to pass this significant bycatch measure as it is a food security issue for them,” said Dr Ngusaru. “If it is good enough for fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean, why isn’t it good enough for fisheries in the Indian Ocean.”

A key development of the meeting was the growing assertiveness of Indian Ocean developing states in taking responsibility for their fish stocks, both in improving management of their own fishing industries and in seeking better practice from foreign industrial fleets in their waters.

“This was illustrated in the Maldives signing up to the IOTC,” said Dr Ngusaru. “WWF is totally behind this new push for sustainable fishing in the Indian Ocean and will do all we can to support it as it benefits both the fisheries and coastal populations depending on them.”

For further information:
Dr Amani Ngusaru,
Head of Marine Programme, WWF Coastal East Africa Network Initiative,
+255 754 367362

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Tuna in the Indian Ocean
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