A meeting of Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) was held in the Seychelles from May 16-20 where Australia proposed that all member countries adopt a management procedure for bigeye tuna. The proposal was accepted.
The species is a valuable tropical fish in the Indian Ocean, worth nearly $1 billion at the point of final sale, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts. However, its stock is not considered as threatened as yellowfin.
Glen Holmes, participant in the IOTC meeting, is an officer in Pew Charitable Trusts‘ International Fisheries Programme. He leads his engagement in three of the world’s five regional tuna fisheries management organizations.
He gave SNA insight into the issue, among other areas of concern in the fisheries conservation world.
SNA: Bigeye tuna is not a threatened species from a stock perspective, but Australia has proposed a management system for the species. Why is it necessary?
GH: Bigeye tuna is not in a bad position like yellowfin tuna, but it is still classified as overfished so fishing levels are still too high although the stock has not yet fallen to a problematic level.
If, however, things remain as they are now, then it will be in a bad spot. It’s not a perfectly good stock and we don’t need to think about it. The other thing Australia has is a management system called harvesting strategies.
This system is basically an automated or semi-automated management process where everyone agrees that if x happens to the stock, the management action is y, and everything is agreed in advance. Introducing this management system into fisheries management means that most of the time you eliminate politics.
People have already agreed on what the reactions will be and so the management actually becomes much more efficient.
SNA: How does this differ from the yellowfin management system?
GH: The yellowfin management system is not a catch strategy, so you always have rules agreed in advance. The IOTC has developed fishing strategies for yellowfin, bigeye, skipjack, swordfish and albacore.
The first one that is ready to be actually implemented and adopted as a management procedure is bigeye tuna. the yellowfin is not ready yet. The current system with yellowfin tuna is the traditional fisheries management system where a stock assessment is done and then the commission sits down and discusses how we decide to change management based on that stock assessment.
It’s the old way of doing things. The modern way of doing things is to set up a management procedure through a process of harvesting strategies. There is a bit of complexity in the initial setup of this. Bigeye tuna are ready for this to happen, but yellowfin tuna are not yet ready although they are not far behind.
SNA: The participation of all Member States in the implementation of an adopted resolution is always a major challenge. How can this be changed?
GH: This is essentially no different from how CMMs (conservation and management measures) have always worked. Everyone will come to say to themselves that they agree with this theoretically binding CMM. Then there is a compliance process whereby all members are then assessed on their level of compliance with this CMM.
The same will happen for bigeye tuna. Skipjack measurement, for example, is a very similar process in which it has an automated mechanism to determine the total allowable catch. A bigeye tuna measurement looks like this, but the measurement procedure is much more comprehensive in terms of evaluation before it is put in place.
Compliance at all levels is potentially an issue and if some countries continue and blatantly fail to comply with the measure, this should have repercussions. At this time they will be brought before the compliance committee and asked to explain themselves and if they cannot explain and give a legitimate reason as to why they are not compliant then they are marked as non-compliant and that’s it. is in the public domain. This can then affect market access, for example if a country wants to sell its fish in Europe, especially in a high value market.
SNA: What about countries that do not necessarily export to an international market?
GH: It is a challenge at all levels. This is one of the challenges currently facing yellowfin tuna. Some CPCs (contracting parties) are not really following the spirit of the reconstruction plans implemented over the last six years, and the challenge is to find a way that persuades everyone to comply and not to s oppose it, and, therefore, not be bound by it. It is a risk for the system.
SNA: Another request addressed to the IOTC is the monitoring of transhipment, a possible vector of IUU fishing. How do you close control gaps and ensure compliance?
GH: It is true that transhipment is a risk of IUU (illegal, undeclared, unregulated) entry into the supply chain. This is partly due to the presence of observers not so much on the carrier vessel as on the longliners or other vessels offloading to these carrier vessels on the high seas.
When I say transshipment, I mean transshipment on the high seas. The current measure is not bad, but there are still loopholes through which notorious actors could try to get their IUU catches through the supply chain.
There is a proposal on the table this week from Japan, to address some of these possible gaps in measurement. The proposal presented is good, but it does not cover all the possible gaps that exist. What they are trying to do is make comparable changes to the IOTC measures so that vessels that operate in the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean can have consistent rules across the board.
Japan wants to reduce the time between when an event occurs and when it has to be reported to the Secretariat. Japan proposes to reduce the number of days from 15 to 5 days. We’d say it doesn’t even have to be five days – with today’s technology, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be reported within 24 hours. That’s the kind of gap we’re talking about.
SNA: Do you think electronic monitoring should be mandatory for all vessels involved in transhipment?
GH: Finally yes. Electronic monitoring has great potential to improve surveillance, which improves management. One of the big problems with the longline fleets, in particular, is that there’s very little monitoring of what’s going on on those vessels.
Transhipment vessels in the IOTC should theoretically have an independent observer on board, so there is someone on the carrier vessel monitoring what is unloaded. This doesn’t cover all the bases so to speak. If you had an electronic monitoring system complementing the human observers, you are much more likely to get the best result in ensuring that there are no marine protected species being transferred or narcotics crossing.
Having more eyes on the water is always going to be a good thing, so if we get to 100% coverage through electronic monitoring, I think yes, we should eventually. I think at this point it’s much more important to be longline fishing rather than watching the ferries because you already have those humans there.
What needs to be done first is that there needs to be an agreed standard to which electronic monitoring is undertaken. At the moment, the standards have not been agreed. Hopefully that will happen within the next 12 months. As soon as the standards are in place, I think there should be an increase in the level of coverage leading eventually to 100%.
SNA: There was a report published by Blue Marine Foundation ahead of the IOTC meeting, which said EU vessels were carrying out unauthorized fishing in the waters of several Indian Ocean states. What are your views?
GH: I haven’t read the latest report as I was a bit preoccupied with the meeting, so I can’t comment specifically on that, although I’ve seen the title.
This was actually raised a few years ago when a report came out possibly in 2020 or 2019 that monitored the EU fleet clinging to the EEZ boundaries of Indian Ocean states. Tracking data suggested they were going in and out or turning off the transmitters. It’s not something new, but it’s still concerning that they continue to do so.
SNA: is the IOTC in danger of falling apart if everyone does not reach a consensus
GH: I don’t think the IOTC will collapse, but the very big risk for all IOTC members is that political gridlock and an unwillingness to compromise will lead to the disappearance of IOTC stocks and that harms everything the world in the long run.
So if people can put management measures and procedures in place that take a lot of the politics out of decision-making and are based on science, and if people can come to an agreement on how to allocate cash, then that’s the best recipe for keeping cash management at a sustainable level, where everyone will win in the long run.
I don’t think it will collapse I think what will happen is stocks will suffer first and then people will start to suffer because without fish you can’t have an industry some fishing.