The population of bigeye tuna in the Atlantic Ocean is overfished, and if nothing changes, there is only a 50-50 chance that the stock will recover. Unfortunately, international fishery managers missed an opportunity recently to improve those odds.
When vessels use fish aggregating devices (FADs), the artificial floating objects placed in the water to attract fish, fishermen net small bigeye tuna at much higher rates than they would otherwise. Scientists agree that catching these young fish before they have had a chance to reproduce is one of the primary drivers of bigeye population declines.
Currently, the majority of vessels using FADs and catching bigeye tuna in the Atlantic are flagged to nations that belong to the European Union. Still, the EU has not taken appropriate actions, such as proposing measures to address FAD fisheries’ contributions to small bigeye overfishing, despite policies that require the precautionary approach and an end to overfishing more broadly.
At a March meeting in Bilbao, Spain, members of a working group tasked with making recommendations on FAD management to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) did not address the continued unsustainable catch of small bigeye tuna.
The working group should have recommended options to restrict the amount of FAD fishing allowed in waters under ICCAT’s jurisdiction or directly limit the number of small Atlantic bigeye that can be caught. But the group didn’t make any reference to these direct management options in its final report.
Given Europe’s prominence in the fishery and the objectives of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, there should have been stronger proposals to address the effects of Europe’s FAD fishery on small bigeye mortality.
The next scientific assessment of the Atlantic bigeye population will be conducted in 2018. If scientists then determine that the population has continued to decline, stakeholders will look to this meeting as the moment when the relevant experts had an opportunity to make strong recommendations to help Atlantic bigeye recover but failed to do so.
Amanda Nickson directs global tuna conservation for The Pew Charitable Trusts.