IATTC leaves tropical tuna unmanaged as meeting fails to reach consensus by one vote

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By Chris Chase, republished from SeafoodSource, 8 December 2020

The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) has failed to reach a consensus on the management of tropical tunas by one vote – with Colombia opposing the resolution – leaving tuna fisheries without any rules starting on 1 January.

The tropical tuna fishery – which includes bigeye, yellowfin, and skipjack tuna stocks – includes billions of dollars of catch. With the failure to reach a consensus – the first time in the IATTC’s history – the fishery is left without any form of management, including quotas, gear types, and more. While individual countries can choose to implement regulations matching the proposed IATTC resolution, region-wide rules will end.

Immediately after the failure of the IATTC to continue its current management into 2021, multiple non-governmental organisations – such as the Pew Charitable Trusts and the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) – sharply criticised the lack of action.

“For the first time in its 70-year history, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission has completely withdrawn from management of tropical tunas,” the Pew Charitable Trusts Director of International Fisheries, Amanda Nickson, said in a release.

The lack of management stems from the IATTC failing to enact resolution 17-02 for tropical tuna species.

“Despite the clear scientific advice to, at a minimum, keep these provisions intact, the objection of one party blocked their extension,” the ISSF said. “As a result, the sustainability of the region’s tropical tuna fisheries and marine ecosystems is now at risk.”

Meetings of all regional fishery management organisations (RFMOs) have had to be moved online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, despite the challenges, the IATTC managed to enact other management changes – specifically, a new resolution establishing minimum standards for electronic monitoring.

“IATTC was able to make critical progress towards electronic monitoring, a much-needed step to help improve oversight of fishing vessel activity – demonstrating that, even during virtual meetings, governments can reach important agreements,” Pew said in a statement.

With a failure to act on any management issue, the future of any Marine Stewardship Council-certified species in the region is “is now uncertain”, Pew Charitable Trusts said. It also brings into question the efficacy of RFMOs.

“It’s clear that business as usual is not working and that regional fisheries management organisations such as IATTC need to urgently modernise their approach to management. When meeting participants can’t reach consensus, the default should never be to simply suspend management of species,” Nickson said.

“The issues with RFMOs go beyond IATTC and stem from management approaches that aren’t robust enough to handle unexpected challenges.

“The need to responsibly manage fish stocks worldwide calls out for significant reforms in the predictability and stability of decision-making, including a modernised system of pre-agreed decision frameworks known as harvest strategies; enhanced transparency of vessel activity through expanded observer coverage and transhipment reform; and greater accountability by adopting measures to improve compliance with existing rules and to end and prevent illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.”

Later this week, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) will be meeting to decide the fate on another set of tuna stocks, with many of the same countries participating in the meeting.

“The lack of protections for tropical tunas in the eastern Pacific makes it even more critical that WCPFC agrees to roll over its existing measure and keep these stocks on a sustainable path, which would include committing to harvest strategies and electronic monitoring,” Nickson said.

“If WCPFC also fails to reach consensus on a measure, tropical tunas in the entire Pacific Ocean basin would be left unmanaged, threatening the viability of these US$24 billion [€19.8 billion] fisheries and the already tenuous status of many vulnerable populations that are impacted by these fisheries.” 

Set in stone: 2021 rules and regulations for tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean

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The collapse of negotiations to regulate and manage tuna stocks in the Eastern Pacific Ocean last week is cause for international concern.

The ensuing lack of management oversight by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) for 2021, unless addressed urgently, will impact the viability and sustainability of not just the Eastern Pacific fishery but potentially the tuna stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) as well.

With the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) getting its 17th annual meeting underway this week, concern is heightened that the management of the world’s largest tuna stocks in the WCPO could face a similarly challenging path.

But that will not happen, according to Mr Eugene Pangelinan, the Chair of the Forum Fisheries Committee, the largest bloc in the WCPFC – that of Pacific member states and participating territories taking up seats at the table.

“The good outcomes have already happened,” Mr Pangelinan told regional journalists on Monday during a Zoom panel discussion with senior management of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA).

The good outcome Mr Pangelinan referred to was the withdrawal by the United States of its proposal to negotiate the Tropical Tuna Measure, and agreeing with the proposal from Pacific island members to “roll over” the current measure to 2021. (The Tropical Tuna Measure, CMM 2018-01, governs the conservation and management of bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tuna. It is due to expire in February 2021.)

“I think the US accepting the fact that this is not the environment to negotiate a very substantive measure, that has very dramatic impacts on small island developing states. And agreeing to just roll over next year, I think is a very good outcome already,” he said.

The point cannot be overstated that the US supporting the position FFA members have put forward, and now supported by others, will effectively allow the continuation of the status quo in 2021.

Dr Manu Tupou-Roosen, the Director-General of FFA, provided more details confirming the significant impact of the US agreeing to the Pacific’s position to roll over.

“[It] has been a big win for all of the Commission [WCPFC] members; it’s not just FFA,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.

“Also, the recognition that it is harder to work through virtual platforms on quite complex measures such as the Tropical Tuna Measure, hence the agreement from the US, who continues to be a valued partner in this space, of their acceptance of this enabling the Tropical Tuna Measure could continue by rolling it over to next year.”

She admitted it did push all the work of renegotiating the measure to 2021.

“What we want to see coming out of this year is a clear process on how we will work this through with Commission members in the lead up to next year’s Commission meeting,” Dr Tupou-Roosen said.

What is clear from the tone of Mr Pangelinan and Dr Tupou-Roosen is their confidence that the rules and regulations for tuna fishing in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean will remain firmly in place for 2021.

For more information from the Forum Fisheries Agency on WCPFC17, contact Hugh Walton, ph. +677 740 2428, email Hugh.Walton@ffa.int.