Eastern Pacific Fisheries Body Must Work Through Impasse on Tropical Tuna Management

‘Extraordinary session’ offers IATTC chance to honor science on policy for fish aggregating devices

Navigate to:

Eastern Pacific Fisheries Body Must Work Through Impasse on Tropical Tuna Management
Tuna Fishing Boat Raising its Fishing Net Commercial Fishing Net
Purse-seine fishing vessel raises a large catch.

When the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) meets virtually, 7-10 June, for an extraordinary session, it’s imperative that it make progress on difficult issues that have threatened its ability to complete its most basic duty: managing skipjack, bigeye, and yellowfin tuna fisheries in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

Last December, it was widely reported that a dispute among IATTC member governments on the management of fish aggregating devices (FADs)—satellite-tracked floats designed to attract fish and improve fishing efficiency—nearly led to disaster. IATTC’s regular meeting ended without adoption of a management mechanism for tropical tuna fisheries, meaning that starting Jan. 1, there would have been a fishing free-for-all in the eastern Pacific. Fortunately, and due in part to pressure from civil society, just before the end of the year, the Commission held an extraordinary meeting—IATTC’s term for any session held outside the normal annual schedule—and agreed to roll over the 2020 regulations into the 2021 fishing season. But IATTC reached that agreement only after securing a commitment from all members for a second extraordinary meeting to specifically address the management of FADs.

That meeting, scheduled for next week, is critical for two reasons. First, FAD management is a contentious topic at IATTC and other regional forums because not all fishing fleets rely on this specific gear, and because FAD fishing is widely known to lead to high amounts of bycatch of immature bigeye tuna, one of the most vulnerable tuna populations in the eastern Pacific. Catching too many juveniles of any species threatens the population and reduces the productivity of fisheries. Preventing overfishing of bigeye requires careful management of FAD use, which often creates tensions across the eastern Pacific because the measures do not apply equally to all fleets.

This situation threatens not only the future of bigeye tuna fisheries, but it can make IATTC meetings difficult and prevent timely discussion of other pressing Commission business. That’s the other reason this special meeting, dedicated exclusively to FAD management, is so important. By making progress on FADs next week, IATTC would free up the necessary time for several other important topics—from electronic monitoring of fisheries and transshipment reform to combatting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing—to be discussed at the Commission’s annual meeting in August.

It should be noted that IATTC scientists have called for better FAD management for several years, including at the May meeting of its scientific advisory committee. So, adopting new measures would also align with the best available scientific advice.

Today, it’s remarkable that skipjack, bigeye, and yellowfin management measures are in place only because of an 11th-hour deal to roll over policies that scientists had warned weren’t strong enough. Having had six months to negotiate a solution, another rollover of this inadequate measure should be off the table. Instead, IATTC should use this opportunity to adopt new FAD management that is in line with scientific advice, and should do so quickly to leave time for action on other critical issues. Failure to move forward now could leave tuna fisheries worth billions of dollars each year in jeopardy.

Grantly Galland is an officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ international fisheries project.

Spotlight on Mental Health

Press Releases & Statements

No Rules for Tropical Tuna Fishing Is An Alarming Development

Quick View
Press Releases & Statements

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.

Fishing crew at work
Fishing crew at work

Tuna Oversight Body Should Adopt Electronic Monitoring

Quick View

Even in a year when policy negotiations are complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, fisheries management bodies have opportunities to move forward on critical issues. To that end, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) should advance efforts to improve monitoring of catch when it meets virtually Nov. 30 to Dec. 4. At this annual meeting, the IATTC will make management decisions that will influence the future of fisheries in the eastern Pacific Ocean, including those for Pacific bluefin and tropical tunas.

Composite image of modern city network communication concept

Learn the Basics of Broadband from Our Limited Series

Sign up for our four-week email course on Broadband Basics

Quick View

How does broadband internet reach our homes, phones, and tablets? What kind of infrastructure connects us all together? What are the major barriers to broadband access for American communities?

Pills illustration
Pills illustration

What Is Antibiotic Resistance—and How Can We Fight It?

Sign up for our four-week email series The Race Against Resistance.

Quick View

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.

Explore Pew’s new and improved
Fiscal 50 interactive

Your state's stats are more accessible than ever with our new and improved Fiscal 50 interactive:

  • Maps, trends, and customizable charts
  • 50-state rankings
  • Analysis of what it all means
  • Shareable graphics and downloadable data
  • Proven fiscal policy strategies


Welcome to the new Fiscal 50

Key changes include:

  • State pages that help you keep track of trends in your home state and provide national and regional context.
  • Interactive indicator pages with highly customizable and shareable data visualizations.
  • A Budget Threads feature that offers Pew’s read on the latest state fiscal news.

Learn more about the new and improved Fiscal 50.