Today marked the beginning of the 27th annual ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) commission meeting, where major fishing management decisions are made on a number of tuna and other large pelagic species for the Atlantic Ocean, and where Sciaena participates as a marine conservation NGO.
At Sciaena we believe the pandemic has brought to light the urgency of making sure marine ecosystems are resilient and able to perform their crucial role in supporting life on Earth, but also to support sustainable economies and prosperous coastal communities. Sustainable, science-based and long-term fisheries management is therefore more important than ever before and we encourage ICCAT, and its CPCs (Contracting Parties and Cooperating non-Contracting Parties, Entities or Fishing Entities) in particular, to show decisive leadership in this year’s meeting in order to reach positive decisions in this regard.
On tropical tunas, we are pleased that the bigeye tuna stock is showing signs of recovery and we hope that this is the result of improvements to the FAD fishery. Nevertheless, we hope that in this annual meeting ICCAT adopts a TAC for this stock that follows the SCRS (ICCAT’s scientific committee) advice for sustainable catches but also takes positive steps in order to reach an agreement on the allocation key. While it is a complicated discussion, we believe it is key to ensure that total catches do not go over sustainable levels and to ensure sustainable management of Bigeye in the future. We are confident that CPCs will be able to define a new allocation key that takes into account historical catches and also the aspirations of developing countries, but also criteria such as reducing juvenile mortality and other factors that have negative impacts on the stock and the ecosystem it depends on.
Additionally, we would like to stress that the three species of tropical tunas are closely connected and that any long-term management should have this connectivity in sight. In this regard, it is with concern that we see the situation of yellowfin tuna, a stock for which ICCAT currently adopts a catch level but no allocation key, which resulted in landing 40.000 tonnes above the TAC advice in 2020.
Even more concerning is the situation of Shortfin mako, for which the SCRS has repeatedly recommended the adoption of a total retention ban without exceptions, combined with by-catch mitigation measures. However, ICCAT has been unable to reach an agreement that will put this stock on a path to recover. Thus, it is crucial that CPCs adopt a measure that ensures a full retention ban for the upcoming years but also includes additional conservation measures. Anything less than that will not only determine a very grim outlook for this important shark species, but also raise questions about the true capacity of ICCAT to deliver on its objectives.
This meeting will also create a chance to take positive steps in relation to the adoption of multiannual management procedures, but also to approve enhanced control and monitoring measures which will increase ICCAT’s ability to fight against illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.
While there are constraints to this meeting, which is taking place online, ICCAT and its CPCs must demonstrate that the organization is committed to protecting the ecosystems and managing the stocks under its stewardship to the benefit of all humankind.