Pew: No Rules for Tropical Tuna Fishing Is An Alarming Development for Eastern Pacific Ocean

Commission’s failure leaves huge area of ocean without management for valuable stocks

WASHINGTON—The Pew Charitable Trusts expressed concern today after the annual meeting of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) ended Friday with no consensus on management for tropical tunas, leaving billions of dollars of potential catch without rules starting Jan. 1.

IATTC—a regional fisheries management organization (RFMO) responsible for the governance of tropical tunas, including bigeye, skipjack, and yellowfin, in the eastern Pacific Ocean—could not come to agreement on a measure for 2021 and instead will allow unregulated fishing for these species. This could jeopardize not only the status of these stocks but also the public’s confidence in IATTC’s ability to manage them. In addition, the future of current or potential Marine Stewardship Council-certified tropical tuna fisheries in these waters, as well as other eco label designations, is now uncertain.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, RFMOs have had to move their meetings online. Yet IATTC was able to make critical progress towards electronic monitoring, a much-needed step to help improve oversight of fishing vessel activity—demonstrating that, even during virtual meetings, governments can reach important agreements.

But after a week of negotiations, IATTC could not fulfill its primary fisheries management mandate.

Amanda Nickson, director of international fisheries for The Pew Charitable Trusts, issued the following statement:

“For the first time in its 70-year history, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission has completely withdrawn from management of tropical tunas.

“To remedy this abdication of responsibility, IATTC and its member governments should immediately schedule a special session to set rules for 2021.

“Unless IATTC takes this emergency action, starting Jan. 1 there will be no rules governing when or where fishing for valuable skipjack, yellowfin, or bigeye tuna occurs; no restrictions on what gear can be used; and no consequences for the resulting harm that may occur.

“This jeopardizes not only the status of these stocks but also industry efforts to demonstrate sustainability.

“It’s clear that business as usual is not working and that regional fisheries management organizations such as IATTC need to urgently modernize their approach to management. When meeting participants can’t reach consensus, the default should never be to simply suspend management of species.

“The issues with RFMOs go beyond IATTC and stem from management approaches that aren’t robust enough to handle unexpected challenges. The need to responsibly manage fish stocks worldwide calls out for significant reforms in the predictability and stability of decision-making, including a modernized system of pre-agreed decision frameworks known as harvest strategies; enhanced transparency of vessel activity through expanded observer coverage and transshipment reform; and greater accountability by adopting measures to improve compliance with existing rules and to end and prevent illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

“Now, all eyes should be on this week’s annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, where many of the same governments that took part in the IATTC meeting will come together virtually to negotiate rules for tropical tuna fishing in the western and central Pacific Ocean starting in 2021. The lack of protections for tropical tunas in the eastern Pacific makes it even more critical that WCPFC agrees to roll over its existing measure and keep these stocks on a sustainable path, which would include committing to harvest strategies and electronic monitoring.

“If WCPFC also fails to reach consensus on a measure, tropical tunas in the entire Pacific Ocean basin would be left unmanaged, threatening the viability of these $24 billion fisheries and the already tenuous status of many vulnerable populations that are impacted by these fisheries.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Learn more at pewtrusts.org.

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