IPNLF disappointed by IOTC outcomes

IPNLF disappointed by IOTC outcomes Schooling yellowfin tuna. Photo: OAR/National Undersea Research Program

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission’s (IOTC) 23rd Annual Meeting concluded with the ratification of a few modest management decisions, but the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) maintains that the sustainability agenda could have been progressed much further, and is particularly disappointed that the opportunity wasn’t taken to end the overfishing of the region’s yellowfin resource.

According to IPNLF, while a cutback in the number of drifting fish aggregating devices (dFADs) allowed in the convention area was agreed, the reduction was far less had been advocated, and it points out that the monitoring tools being put in place make it impossible to verify whether the limit is being met or indeed exceeded.

While a proposal was endorsed for all vessels operating in the IOTC convention area on retention of manta and mobula rays, and there was some first progress towards meaningful monitoring and control of FADs, as well as the adoption of an improved but compromised management plan to rebuild Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna, ultimately the IPNLF position is that agreed new conservation measures are not ambitious enough to reduce current overfishing.

Ahead of this year’s meeting, IPNLF and others were urging the IOTC’s Members to adopt a rebuilding plan that would enable the yellowfin stock to recover by 2024. Other important issues IPNLF focused on was the need to continue the development of harvest strategies, a more equitable catch allocation process that recognises the legitimate rights of the region’s developing coastal states, stronger FAD management, and improved monitoring and data collection.

“While it’s true that IOTC covered some important ground in Hyderabad, and we of course welcome that progress, the overfishing of yellowfin tuna remains the elephant in the room. It’s critical that the Indian Ocean quickly gets a robust framework of management measures in place to provide long-term protection for this globally important resource. Without such tools in the convention area, how can we hope to provide the social and economic security that this region’s developing but vulnerable coastal states need?” said Martin Purves, Managing Director of IPNLF.

He added that there was also little movement with regards to the equitable allocation of the region’s tuna resource. Although the expectation is that the G16 Group of Like-minded Coastal States will make crucial progress at the 6th meeting of the Technical Committee on Allocation Criteria in Bangkok in early 2020, hopefully leading to a proposal on allocation that can be adopted at the Commission meeting later that year.

The international legal framework for fisheries governance requires that conservation and management measures for transboundary fish stocks do not place a disproportionate burden on developing states and this concept, which is already part of the discourse at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), received increasing recognition at IOTC where Members were urged to ensure that measures do not result in transferring a disproportionate burden of conservation action onto developing coastal states.

One of the meeting’s key outcomes was the adoption of measures to reduce FAD numbers to 300. IPNLF was among those leading the call for a more sizeable reduction to be made.

There will also be increased monitoring and data collection – provided by GPS buoys attached to dFADs. The Resolution that was adopted by IOTC was far less ambitious than the one initially proposed by the Maldives and South Africa.

“As we develop a better understanding of buoy dynamics and use, the intent of our proposed language on FAD management was to ensure that limits on the number of FADs – which we now refer to as ‘operational buoys’ – actually meet the intended conservation and management outcomes,” said Dr Shiham Adam, Head of the Maldives’ delegation.

“Unfortunately, in the heat of the negotiations, the language was diluted in such a manner that it now allows for self-reporting and misses key data requirements to be able to actually monitor whether operational buoys are not remotely activated or muted. This means purse seine operators can still work around the limits we have established, which of course is very disappointing. Nevertheless, we feel an important step forward has been made by recognising the need of FAD tracking in the newly-adopted Resolution, which is more ambitious than in any of the other tuna RFMOs.”

At the meeting, IOTC also made it mandatory to have completely non-entangling designs for FADs to reduce the possibility of catching non-targeted species. As of 2022, all FADs will have to be made of biodegradable material.

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