UNITED KINGDOM: Decision makers meeting at the 21st Annual Session of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) on May 26 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, considered 16 proposals aimed at enhancing the management of the tuna fisheries in the Indian Ocean, which was encouraging by the International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF).
“Their growing awareness of the threats facing Indian Ocean tuna fisheries and their willingness to work together to safeguard the resources is a very positive sign for the fisheries as well as for the highly vulnerable coastal communities,” pointed out Adam Baske, IPNLF’s Director of Policy & Outreach.
The IPNLF stresses that testament to this, the IOTC for the first time had meaningful discussions on the allocation of fishing opportunities. Allocation discussions are always difficult, but the fact that these concepts are now being discussed, with the developing coastal states taking a leading role, shows that the IOTC is willing to take on these complex but crucial issues.
The foundation considers that another positive development was an agreement on a harvest strategy work plan, further demonstrating the IOTC’s commitment to implement pre-agreed management procedures for the primary tuna fisheries in a timely fashion, stating that NGOs, governments, and companies across the supply chain were calling on the IOTC to make progress in this area prior to the meeting, and the IOTC delivered.
Concerned by the evidence of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities in the Indian Ocean, delegates also took important new steps to fight such practices. These actions will help all of the IOTC members to investigate, fine and arrest fishing vessels operating illegally, including those linked to serious and organised crime.
To IPNLF, there were also some promising developments with regards to the issue of bycatch, since the IOTC agreed to phase out the use of large-scale driftnets in the waters of coastal countries.
In the Indian Ocean, these nets are known to be up to seven kilometres long. The United Nations had already banned the use of driftnets longer than 2.5 kilometres on the high seas in 1991, but despite this ban, serious concerns remained regarding ongoing violations. This new IOTC measure now extends the phasing out of this type of fishing gear to the waters of member states. It is laudable in the effort to improve the management of Indian Ocean tuna resources, but it will still need to be supported through stringent controls and concerted efforts by all members involved in these fisheries.
To the foundation, the most difficult negotiation of the week was centred on the reduction of supply vessels and drifting fish aggregating devices (FADs). Supply vessels are widely used by purse seiners to deploy drifting FADs and locate schools of fish, facilitating higher catches of tunas and bycatch species. In response to growing concerns from coastal states and many NGOs regarding their harmful impact on ecosystems and tuna stocks, the IOTC agreed by consensus to freeze the current number of supply vessels, and to severely cut their numbers in the next coming years. They also agreed to reduce the number of drifting FADs per vessel from 425 down to 350.
This is the first time a tuna management body has taken on the issue of supply vessels since the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) banned them in 1999. Fewer supply vessels and fewer FADs should also help when it comes to the issue of rebuilding yellowfin stocks, but it will be difficult to calculate their exact contribution. IPNLF is hopeful that more information regarding the activities of supply vessels and their contribution to the overall fishing effort will feed into the IOTC in the future.
“IPNLF came into this year’s meeting hoping to see action, and we weren’t disappointed. IOTC members took promising strides this week on harvest strategies and allocation. They acted on driftnets and illegal fishing. Most impressively, they also agreed to cap and reduce supply vessels,” pointed out Baske.
“All of these improvements will strengthen the overall management framework of the Indian Ocean tuna fishery, and give us further hope that the resources, and communities that depend on them, will thrive into the future,” he concluded.