International fisheries management organizations in the Atlantic are taking steps towards sustainability, but the path is still beginning

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In the last two weeks, Sciaena attended the annual meetings of two of the main Regional Fisheries Management Organizations of the Atlantic Ocean. Several positive decisions were taken when it comes to conservation and sustainable management of stocks, including the adoption of a multi-year management procedure for North Atlantic Bluefin tuna. However, it was clear that these organizations still have a long way to go to effectively include the contributions of NGOs and prioritize the good environmental status of ecosystems, and species, in order to ensure sustainable fisheries.

The 23rd Special Meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) took place in Vale do Lobo between November 13 and 21. The more than 50 members of ICCAT – including the European Union (EU) and its member states – were once again gathered to discuss and make decisions on several stocks of enormous ecological and economic importance, such as tunas and swordfish.

The Vale do Lobo meeting was marked by an historic decision for ICCAT. One of the world’s most emblematic and valuable stocks – North Atlantic Bluefin tuna – will now be managed through a multi-annual management procedure. This methodology is considered to be the fisheries management strategy of the future, as it allows for predictability and precaution. ICCAT is, moreover, at the forefront in adopting these management measures, as it has a roadmap providing for the development and adoption of management procedures for all stocks under its jurisdiction. Next year, it will be applied to the North Atlantic Swordfish, a stock of great importance to Portugal.

A disappointing note goes once again to the management of Bigeye tuna, since it was once again not possible to reach agreement on a management measure that would allow the conservation of the stock, thus ensuring the sustainability of the three tropical tuna species, as well as fisheries and the communities that depend on it. This decision is particularly difficult to understand considering that this impasse has been going on for several years, while ICCAT is making positive progress on other stocks.

However, among several positive decisions in terms of control and monitoring, which make ICCAT an example at the international level in the fight against illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, there was also another very positive decision, with the approval of a management plan for the South Atlantic Shortfin mako shark, a decision that follows the ambitious measures taken at the 2021 meeting for the stock of this species in the North Atlantic.

In parallel to ICCAT,  between November 15 and 18, the annual meeting of the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) took place in London. NEAFC is an organization that is responsible for managing stocks of small pelagics such as mackerels and Blue whiting, but also several deep-sea species and ecosystems. In a meeting marked by the impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which significantly limited the dialogues and the work of the commission, it was still possible to define some fishing opportunities in line with scientific advice, such as for the Blue whiting, and measures to protect sensitive deep-sea habitats were also renewed.

In conclusion, although there have been positive decisions in both ICCAT and NEAFC, with the possibility for Sciaena and other NGOs to intervene, it is important to recognize that these fisheries management organizations still have a long way to go in order to be more transparent and more inclusive, incorporating NGOs more effectively and taking conservation as their core purpose, including to ensure resilient and sustainable fisheries.

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