Atlantic Tuna Protected, Shark Species Left Behind at Annual Meet
Following a recent meeting set to ensure the sustainability of the Atlantic tuna fisheries, conservation groups lauded a decision that heeds scientific advise in setting tuna quotas. However, the groups expressed concern over the fact that few measures were agreed to protect sharks. Meanwhile, a similar fisheries commission meeting focusing on Pacific waters opened today amidst calls for stronger measures to safeguard the iconic bigeye and skipjack tuna.
Tuna quotas tighter than expected
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) wrapped up its 18th annual meeting in Agadir, Morocco on 19 November.
To conservationists, the decision on annual fishing quotas for Atlantic Bluefin tuna constituted the highlight of the meeting. Although fisheries scientists have found evidence that Bluefin tuna stocks are increasing, following decades of steady decline, the extent of their recovery is unknown. Bluefin tuna have a lifespan of about 40 years and only spawn once a year. They do not reach reproductive maturity until they are between eight and 12 years old, making them vulnerable to overfishing. Scientists therefore recommended only a slight increase in the annual quota for 2013 in the Mediterranean and East Atlantic, with catches rising to 13,500 tonnes from 12,900 tonnes in 2012. Surprising many, the ICCAT heeded this recommendation. Future quota increases will be based on new scientific evidence.
Conservation group WWF welcomed the quotas. “The 2012 meeting was a real test of the commitment of ICCAT members on the conservation of the bluefin tuna. We are pleased that respect for science has finally been imposed, with the EU at the forefront, in the fight against short term benefits by setting unsustainable fishing levels,” said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries, WWF-Mediterranean. However, Tudela expressed disappointed with the lack of progress on the issue of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. Although all vessels will now be required to provide information on their catch before entering port, port authorities are not obliged to deny them entry if they are found to have fished illegally. IUU fishing remains a massive problem in the waters covered by ICCAT.
Not all groups were happy with the outcome, however. The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Association (ABTA), an American fishermen’s group, felt let down by the US government on fishing quotas. The quota for the West Atlantic region was set two years ago at 1,750 tonnes per year. In light of the new scientific findings indicating an increase in stocks, the group had requested an increased quota of 2,000 tons per year. However, the US position was to seek a further reduction to the current quota. ABTA lamented this stance, saying that a reduction would have devastating consequences for fishing communities along the entire Eastern seaboard.
Concern for the future of sharks
While the Commission’s decisions regarding tuna quotas were applauded for the most part, several conservation groups felt that the ICCAT ignored the vulnerability of sharks in the Atlantic.
Conservation group Oceana drew attention to the need to protect threatened migratory shark species in particular. Maria Jose Cornax, Fisheries Campaign Manager for Europe, said the outcome of the meeting was baffling and contradictory. “We welcome the willingness of ICCAT to stay on the path towards Bluefin tuna recovery in 2013, but we are extremely concerned about the future of ICCAT’s ‘forgotten species’.”
Seven proposals to protect and manage threatened shark species were tabled at the meeting. Of the seven, only a decision relating to compliance with existing measures was adopted. One of the rejected measures is beginning to gain global support, however. The “fins-attached” proposal by the United States is designed to strengthen the ICCAT’s prohibition on shark finning. Although the measure failed at the meeting, the European Parliament overwhelmingly agreed on a similar proposal on 22 November, closing a loophole on shark finning under European rules.
Regarding particular species, conservation groups expressed strong concern regarding the lack of progress to safeguard the endangered porbeagle and mako sharks. The EU had tabled a proposal requiring the release of any porbeagle. Also known as “Canada’s shark”, porbeagles have been declared endangered by Canadian authorities. The overfishing of this species over four decades had led to a reduction of its population by about 90 percent. Recent quotas have helped stabilise their numbers, however. Delegates - facing opposition from Japan, China and Korea - failed to agree any catch limits for the mako shark.
However, parties did decide to begin negotiating an amendment to the ICCAT convention in order to include sharks. According to Susan Lieberman, director of international policy at the Pew Environment Group, “This is encouraging news for the future of sharks. ICCAT agreed today to formally begin a process that will amend the text of its convention to explicitly include sharks, instead of just managing them as by-catch in ICCAT fisheries. This action sets the stage for improved international management of shark fishing in the Atlantic, which is causing serious depletion of many shark species.”
The ICCAT is a regional fisheries management organization comprised of 48 contracting parties. Its members are estimated to consume over 75 percent of Bluefin tuna catch.
Pacific tuna meeting opens amidst calls of caution
Meanwhile, the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission for the conservation of tuna opened on Monday in Manila, the Philippines. The WCPFC comprises the Pacific Island countries, Asian nations, the US and EU, and manages the world’s largest tuna fishery which - which stretches from Indonesia to Hawaii - and supplies up to 60 percent of global tuna, notably bigeye and skipjack.
In the lead-up to the meeting, conservationists sounded the alarm bells, especially stressing the need to manage the bigeye tune fishery better, and to control the use of fish aggregating devises (FADs), which lead to large numbers of by-catch, including juvenile tunas. Palau fisheries official Nanette Malsol, on behalf of a bloc of Pacific island nations, said “we are global leaders in conservation and management of tuna. We have initiated and supported many WCPFC conservation measures such as closing high seas areas, introducing controls on FADs and others. What’s more we have gone beyond the WCPFC to introduce higher sustainability standards… This week it’s up to the big fishing nations to show the world what they are going to do to cut overfishing of bigeye tuna”.
“The fishing industry is not currently required to account for its use of FADs. It is being allowed to gamble with the health of the ocean, and it is time for governments to require full accountability and management of this proliferating and risky fishing gear,” Amanda Nickson of the Pew Environment Group, stressed.
The WCPFC meeting will close on Friday, 7 December.
ICTSD Reporting; “Atlantic Bluefin tuna catch to rise slightly,” AFP, 20 November 2012; “Oceana questions ICCAT decision not to manage sharks,” FISHUPDATE.COM, 20 November 2012; “WWF applauds the news that the decision on Bluefin tuna followed scientific advice,” WWF, 19 November 2012; “US fishermen put ICCAT amongst the pigeons,” FISHNEWSEU>COM, 20 November 2012; “Environmental groups celebrate tuna protections, worry about sharks left behind,” FIS, 20 November 2012; “Canada loses bid for more tuna, rebuffs push to protect sharks,” GLOBE AND MAIL, 19 November 2012; “ICCAT Follows Scientific Advice on Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, Makes Some Progress on Sharks, Efforts to Combat Illegal Fishing,” PEW, 19 November 2012; “Pacific nations alarmed by tuna overfishing,” AP, 2 December 2012; “Big Fishing Nations Must Act This Week at Tuna Commission to Cut Overfishing, says PNA,” PACIFIC NEWS CENTRE, 2 December 2012
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