The eastern Pacific Ocean is home to some of the world’s most valuable and productive tuna fisheries. As The Pew Charitable Trusts noted in its 2016 report “Netting Billions: A Global Valuation of Tuna,” the value of tuna fishing in the eastern Pacific Ocean was over $1.1 billion to fishermen in the region and more than $5.8 billion at the final point of sale. In fact, at the time the average annual catch in the eastern Pacific was nearly as high as for the entire Atlantic Ocean.
The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) is responsible for the effective long-term conservation and management of tuna, sharks, and other highly migratory species in the eastern tropical Pacific. To ensure the sustainability of these valuable fisheries, members of Commission should take three critical actions during their annual meeting July 22-26 in Bilbao, Spain:
1. Improve transshipment regulations to secure a legal seafood supply chain.
Transshipment refers to the practice of transferring catch from a fishing vessel to a carrier ship, which then delivers the fish to port. This is an important step in the global seafood supply chain that often takes place outside the view and reach of authorities—creating opportunities for illicit activities and the misreporting or nonreporting of catch. This year, IATTC members should adopt policies that increase the transparency and ease of verifying transshipment activities.
Since the Commission last updated its rules on this widespread activity in 2012, the number of recorded transshipments has increased more than 65 percent. What’s more, a recent analysis using publicly broadcasted vessel-position data indicates that unauthorized transshipments may have occurred in the IATTC Convention area in 2017.
The IATTC should require that real-time submission of transshipment declarations be sent to all relevant authorities, and it should limit transshipment authorizations to vessels from countries that are members or cooperating nonmembers of that body. Finally, the IATTC should strengthen its information-sharing agreements related to transshipment with the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, including those on data collected by onboard observers.
2. Modernize fisheries management.
Gone are the days when managers viewed setting short-term catch limits annually as the best way to manage fishing. Today, managers and other stakeholders are starting to realize that agreeing on a harvest strategy can prevent political gridlock from obstructing sustainable management. A harvest strategy is a science-based, precautionary system of multiyear management rules that guides fishing in the future to ensure that the stock remains healthy and triggers automatic actions if the stock is in danger of becoming overfished. Harvest strategies are tested via computer simulation to help ensure that their performance is in line with overall fishery objectives.
IATTC members should provide funding to accelerate the use of management strategy evaluation for all key species. This modeling approach for testing rules on catch and fishing effort incorporates information about the biology and population dynamics of the stock, and considers environmental variation and uncertainty.
In addition, members should agree to create a scientist-manager dialogue working group. Such a group is critical, because the harvest strategy process relies on scientists, managers, and stakeholders communicating and agreeing on shared objectives for the fishery and health of the fish populations, as well as approaches to best achieve those objectives.
In the meantime, IATTC members must act quickly to end overfishing of valuable yellowfin, bigeye, and Pacific bluefin tuna. This will require agreeing to appropriate reductions in catch and fishing effort.
Lastly, proper management also requires improving data collection for use in science and compliance. Although large purse seine vessels have human observers on board all trips, coverage on longline vessels is extremely low. IATTC members should agree to also achieve 100 percent coverage on longline vessels. This should occur through use of human observers and cameras, and the Commission should prioritize development of a regional electronic monitoring program, with appropriate standards for data collection.
3. Fight illegal fishing through strong port controls.
The IATTC is the only tuna regional fisheries management organization without appropriate port State measures in place. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which accounts for up to 1 in 5 wild-caught ocean fish, is a major threat to the sustainability of the world’s fisheries. Therefore, modernizing the on-the-water rules for catching and transferring tuna should be accompanied by strong controls in port to deter IUU-caught fish from making their way to market.
To ensure that all members are playing by the same rules, the IATTC should adopt a strong set of minimum standards governing the use of ports by fishing vessels and inspections in those ports.
At this year’s meeting, it's time for IATTC members to help put an end to illegal fishing operations by ensuring that their port measures are sufficient and that officers are properly enforcing these provisions.
Jamie Gibbon is a manager with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ international fisheries team.