LONDON, 14 December 2020: The International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) is calling on members of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) to take urgent action, while working in the best interests of the region’s tuna resources and its coastal fisheries, when this regional fisheries management organisation convenes its Special Session in early March 2021 to discuss the rebuilding of the overfished Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna stock.
Covering 70 million square kilometres, the Indian Ocean is one of the world’s most economically important fishing areas, accounting for approximately 20 percent of the world’s production of tuna. As well as being an important source of tuna in consumer markets all over the world, these fish are a vital source of protein and income for many coastal communities in the region.
However, the long-term sustainability of these tuna stocks, particularly its yellowfin resource, are increasingly being called into question. Indian Ocean yellowfin has been classified as overfished since 2015 and has been the subject of a rebuilding plan since 2016.
The effectiveness of this rebuilding plan, the details which are contained under IOTC Resolution 19/01, has been hampered by ineffective implementation, non-compliance with existing measures by several fishing nations, ineffective management of drifting Fish Aggregating Devices (dFADs) that has led to further increases in juvenile yellowfin mortality and too many exemptions for fleets that should also contribute to reducing overall catch levels. The stock remains overfished and has thus far showed no signs of recovery.
Due to COVID-19 impacts, IOTC members agreed before the 24th Session of the IOTC Commission, which was held from 2 to 6 November 2020, to avoid complex and time-consuming matters that would be difficult to accommodate in the virtual format that replaced the usual in-person meetings. Unfortunately, this meant that no new Conservation and Management Measures (CMMs) were discussed or adopted despite the urgency to rebuild yellowfin stocks by implementing effective management measures.
IPNLF were among a group of IOTC members and NGOs urging the Commission to hold a Special Session in early 2021, as is allowed under its rules of procedure, to discuss the worrying state of Indian Ocean yellowfin and the urgent need for robust management measures to rebuild the stock. Such a Special Session has now been scheduled for 8 to 12 March 2021.
Recognising the difficulty in reaching agreement on how tuna stocks should be managed within the Indian Ocean region, even when not faced with the severe disruptions caused by the pandemic, IPNLF are urging IOTC members to consider potential solutions well in advance of the Special Session meeting in March, emphasising that any further delays in the implementation of management measures should not be an option. A further worsening of the stock situation will not only contradict the collaborative and inclusive approach that is enshrined under UNCLOS, but will also impact the coastal communities that rely on these resources for their livelihoods and food security the most.
The IOTC acknowledged the importance of applying the precautionary approach to the management of tropical tuna in the Indian Ocean with the adoption of Resolution 12/01 which states that: “States shall be more cautious when information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate and that the absence of adequate scientific information shall not be used as a reason for postponing to take conservation and management measures”.
The widespread use of drifting-FADs by industrial purse-seine fishing vessels has been identified as a major contributor to the yellowfin overfishing problem. As tuna are attracted to the satellite-monitored rafts and netting, they offer a highly effective method of improving catch rates and reducing operating costs, although this comes at a high environmental cost.
Several thousands of these artificial objects are deployed into the Indian Ocean every year. In addition to being associated with increased catches of juvenile tuna, these devices are linked to the bycatch of vulnerable non-target species such as sharks and turtles, while many are lost or abandoned and end up stranded on sensitive coastal habitats.
Ahead of the Special Session meeting, IPNLF has identified four crucial but achievable actions that could ensure the effective implementation of Resolution 19/01 and pave the way for the rebuilding of the region’s yellowfin stocks:
- All IOTC members should urgently agree, at a minimum, to the total catch reduction of 20 percent for yellowfin tuna as is recommended by the IOTC’s Scientific Committee.
- Amendments to Resolution 19/01 should strategically focus on key shortcomings of the interim measure, focusing on the already agreed catch reduction ratios by different fishing gears, and the relative contributions theses gears make to the overfished stock status of yellowfin, rather than coming up with new measures.
- The most pragmatic way of achieving the required minimum total catch reduction of 20% is to simply double all of the currently agreed catch reductions by fishing gear as stated in 19/01, with exemptions applying only to artisanal fleets catching less than 2,000 tonnes per year.
- Address the impacts on the overfished yellowfin stock by the large numbers of drifting-FADs deployed by the purse seine fleet in the Indian Ocean, by:
- phasing out all supply vessels that assist purse seiners in the deployment and retrieval of FADs by the end of 2021
- reduce the number of operational FADs assigned to anyone purse seiner from 300 to 200
- ensure full transparency in how FADs are assigned to purse seine vessels, tracked in near-real time, deployed and retrieved
IPNLF have previously been instrumental in working with Indian Ocean delegations to push for the adoption of the world’s first harvest control rule (HCR) for skipjack tuna in 2016. This leading international charity won the international Seafood Champion award for advocacy in 2017 for leading significant reform of Indian Ocean tuna fisheries.
The successful adoption of the skipjack HCR signified a pivotal point for fisheries management and seafood sustainability; it was the first time that a tuna management body had agreed on a proactive precautionary management system to avoid the over-exploitation of a tuna stock.
“The IOTC needs to regain the momentum it had four years ago when a HCR for skipjack was adopted. By ending overfishing of yellowfin tuna and establishing a framework of robust management measures, the IOTC can once again demonstrate that it takes its responsibilities seriously”, Dr Adam continued.