ICCAT Follows Scientific Advice on Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, Makes Some Progress on Sharks, Efforts to Combat Illegal Fishing
At the conclusion of their week-long meeting in Agadir, 48 member governments of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas today adopted positive measures that will help conserve the iconic Atlantic bluefin tuna, and advance shark protection in the future. But they deferred meaningful action on other pressing matters.
“While we're pleased that ICCAT supported efforts to help rebuild bluefin tuna populations, it's regrettable that the commission couldn't achieve consensus on immediate protective measures for sharks,” said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy at the Pew Environment Group. “While there was progress toward putting in place an electronic system to track bluefin tuna, it is disappointing that ICCAT only made limited progress in overall efforts to stop illegal fishing.”
ICCAT is a regional fisheries management organization (RMFO) responsible for approximately 30 species of fish in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas such as the Mediterranean. Delegates met in Agadir, Morocco from Nov. 12-19 to negotiate a variety of conservation measures for tunas and severely depleted and threatened ocean species.
By following the advice of their own scientists to not increase fishing quotas for Atlantic bluefin tuna, one of the ocean's most valuable fish, ICCAT solidified its commitment to making decisions based on sound science.
It is encouraging that ICCAT listened to the recommendations of its own scientists and agreed to keep catch limits for bluefin tuna within their advice. This decision will give this depleted species a fighting chance to continue on the path to recovery after decades of overfishing and mismanagement. Susan Lieberman, international policy director, Pew Environment Group
"Although we are disappointed that the quota has only been set for one year in the western Atlantic and two years in the eastern Atlantic, we are hopeful that governments will expand their efforts to stop the illegal fishing and fraud in parts of this fishery," Lieberman said.
An electronic bluefin catch documentation scheme, initiated at ICCAT's 2011 annual meeting, will promote compliance and help combat the persistent illegal and unreported fishing of Atlantic bluefin tuna, especially in the Mediterranean Sea.
In a ground-breaking move, ICCAT member governments also agreed to modernize and amend the treaty under which the commission operates. One of their top priorities includes adding a mandate for the conservation and management of sharks. This is the first time that negotiations will be launched to significantly amend the RFMO's treaty since it was finalized in 1966.
“This is encouraging news for the future of sharks,” said Lieberman. “ICCAT agreed today to formally begin a process that will amend the text of its convention to explicitly include sharks, instead of just managing them as bycatch in ICCAT fisheries. This action sets the stage for improved international management of shark fishing in the Atlantic, which is causing serious depletion of many shark species.”
Throughout the week, ICCAT member governments sparred over other shark policy proposals. As in recent years, the RFMO considered necessary protection for porbeagle sharks. But it failed to reach consensus, even though porbeagles are one of the most vulnerable species caught in ICCAT fisheries. The next opportunity to protect these sharks will be at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in March 2013.
Delegates also failed to reach agreement on a catch limit for shortfin mako sharks, despite scientific advice. This highly vulnerable species continues to be in jeopardy from target fisheries as well as those fisheries taking the sharks as bycatch. During their negotiations, ICCAT member governments took an important step in their fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing by adopting a scheme for port inspections. All vessels will now be required to provide information about their catch before entering port, and governments will have minimum requirements to inspect those vessels in port. Unfortunately, under this scheme, even if a vessel is found to have fished illegally, port governments will not be obligated to deny it landing, transshipment or access to port services.
- The ICCAT convention area is 24.8 percent of the global ocean surface (89,894,286 km square).
- Morocco was among the first countries to join ICCAT in 1969. It has the second largest reported catch of eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna (1,237 metric tonnes in 2011).
- Morocco is second only to the EU (which reported 5,656 metric tonnes) and is one of a few countries that catches bluefin tuna in both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.
- The porbeagle shark has commercial value for its large fins and meat and is taken both in directed fisheries and as bycatch (marine life that is incidentally caught by vessels targeting other species). Scientists project that, under current rate of exploitation, this stock would need a minimum of several decades and possibly more than 100 years to fully recover. The porbeagle shark is proposed for inclusion in the Appendices of CITES, which meets in March 2013.
- The next tuna RFMO meeting, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, convenes in Manila from December 2-6. There are important decisions to be made on strengthened conservation measures for tropical tunas in the Pacific and shark conservation. The Pew Environment Group will be there as well.