Indian Ocean Tuna Commission adopts lax limits to use of fish aggregating devices

Busan, Republic of Korea – WWF is concerned at the decision of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), responsible for managing nearly a quarter of global tuna catch, to adopt controversially high limits on numbers of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) at the close of its annual meeting taking place in Busan, Korea.

These devices, drifting in tens of thousands across the Indian Ocean, attract tuna and make it easy for vessels to catch them, increasing catches to very risky levels and resulting in bycatch of juvenile tunas, threatened sharks and turtles.

The contentious FAD proposal was one of eleven Resolutions adopted today in Busan, from a total of 15 proposals put before IOTC members. On the surface this appears to represent a good result, but closer examination may suggest otherwise. A number of these adopted proposals were only minor updates of existing measures. Other, more important, proposals were watered down significantly before members would finally adopt them.

One clearly disappointing result is that the conservation of sharks is not being addressed by the IOTC. Proposals to prohibit the removal of fins were defeated. The only other positive change was a requirement to collect catch information for silky sharks which will be welcomed by scientists.

The Commission’s inability to respond when necessary to safeguard stocks is illustrated in the new Resolution addressing serious overfishing of three marlin species, which ineffectually encourages members to make efforts to catch fewer fish. It is obvious that much still needs doing to strengthen the management of tuna and tuna-like species in the Indian Ocean.

“Comments from some IOTC members who question moves to improve the management of tuna fisheries, on the grounds that stocks are currently doing well, are extremely concerning,” said Dr Wetjens Dimmlich, WWF’s Indian Ocean Tuna Programme Manager. “If they wait until there is a crisis before taking action, then they’ve waited too long.”

Fortunately for the IOTC, they have inherited a tuna fishery that is not yet over-exploited. But scientists say this honeymoon period is ending, with catches increasing rapidly, and the difficult decisions can’t be avoided any longer. With the surprising concessions to the interests of one sector of the fishing fleets through the adopted FAD proposal, one opportunity to do so was missed this week.

Experts attending the meeting noted that if the IOTC fails to take responsible action, then actions will be forced on them by external forces, including an increasingly educated public who already seek their tuna from more sustainable sources.

“But it’s not all bad news” added Dr Dimmlich. “Over just the last three years WWF have been encouraged by the insightful contributions to the discussions of proposals by many coastal states who are increasingly engaged with many of the issues facing the IOTC.”

The IOTC began this week’s annual meeting facing a crisis, with lack of funding from members threatening its effectiveness, and accusations of stagnation over recent years. After almost 20 years of talks there is not a single catch limit on any species managed by the IOTC. The events of this week’s Busan meeting do little to instill confidence that the Commission is capable of ensuring the sustainability of the tuna stocks that fall under its responsibility.

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission 19th Session took place from 27 April – 1 May in Busan, Republic of Korea. The IOTC is responsible for the conservation and management of tuna and tuna-like species in the Indian Ocean.

Source: WWF