April 24 marks the first “International day against IUU fishing” as designated by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean to focus attention on illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. The day comes just ahead of an important milestone for one of the most prized catches in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea—Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Illegal fishing and trade of Atlantic bluefin, especially in the Mediterranean, has been well documented and continues to raise concerns. Every illegally caught fish that makes it to market undetected undermines the efforts of scientists, fishery managers, and law-abiding fishermen working to support the recovery of Atlantic bluefin and enable higher catch levels in the future.
Change, though, is on its way. Last November, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the body that manages Atlantic bluefin and other species, set a deadline for implementing a high-tech tool to combat fraud and illegal trade. The current deadline is fast approaching.
ICCAT started work on an electronic bluefin catch documentation (eBCD) system in 2010 to replace the paper-based system long used to track the global catch and trade of Atlantic bluefin. Members developed the electronic system because the paper system is not only slow and cumbersome but also contains loopholes that allow for continued illegal fishing, misreporting, and fraud. The new system will help close these loopholes and enable managers to closely monitor and better control catch and trade.
The eBCD system has been in development for years and has faced multiple implementation delays, but it should finally be ready to launch in May.
This month, as part of the transition, ICCAT is hosting training sessions to ensure that governments are up-to-speed on the latest technical developments and prepared to train fishermen and traders on how to use the system. A number of governments continue to test the eBCD system.
In mid-April, ICCAT’s eBCD working group meets in Madrid to review the final framework for the system and determine if it will get the green light to launch May 1, as scheduled.
Pew is encouraged that ICCAT members agreed to this deadline last November and that the eBCD working group and key governments have demonstrated a commitment to meeting it.
There is little time to waste. With days to go before the eBCD implementation deadline and the busiest bluefin fishing season commencing May 26, it’s crucial for all governments to maintain the momentum.
A firm commitment by the eBCD working group and the governments involved in the fisheries to respect the deadline and help close the door to trade of illegally caught bluefin would contribute significantly to the recent progress ICCAT has made in supporting the species’ recovery.
We’ll be watching.
Amanda Nickson directs Pew’s global tuna conservation efforts.