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Colombia Steps Up Commitment To Sustainable Tuna

WWF, Conservation International (CI), Malpelo Foundation and MarViva Foundation applaud the decision by the Colombian government to endorse conservation measures for tropical tuna as resolved in June 2009 IATTC meeting, sending a message of renewed commitment to the sustainable management of commercial tuna stocks in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. In the eightieth meeting of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), fifteen of the sixteen member countries agreed to a series of conservation measures based on IATTC scientific studies to address progressive deterioration of tuna stocks. Over the past month, Colombia debated adoption of these conservation measures for Colombia flag fisheries vessels and, yesterday announced the good news; a demonstration of environmental leadership by making the IATTC resolutions a unanimous agreement of all 16 member countries.

Specific fishing closure periods have been agreed for tuna fishing in the Eastern Pacific during 59 days in 2009, 62 days in 2010 and, if affirmed, 73 days in 2011. These measures agreed to by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) aim to reduce fishing effort especially for bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) whose populations are currently below levels that would produce maximum sustainable yield and yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) whose spawning stock is likely to decline under current fishing practices and levels.

Colombia had proposed a phased fishery closure which meant different closure dates in turn for individual vessels. The downside of this approach is that it does not lead to as much of a reduction in fishing effort as the agreed IATTC measure needed to generate the desired outcome of reduced mortality and fish population recovery. A collaborative, regional fisheries management approach is essential for species like tuna that are highly migratory and are not exclusive to the jurisdictional waters of any single country. By endorsing these conservation measures, Colombia shows a good faith effort to contribute to management of shared resources. It is an economic issue, given that in 2007 almost 70% of Colombian fish captures corresponded to tuna fisheries, with a higher percentage of yellowfin and a lower one of skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis), two of the benefited species with the conservation measures.

Additionally, in 2007, Colombia exported over 61 million dollars worth of tuna -37% of total fish exports - to the United States, Ecuador, Panama and Japan, among other countries. With the endorsement of the IATTC resolutions, Colombia demonstrates its environmental commitment, an essential element of current trade agreement negotiations with the European Union and the United States. Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMO’s) like IATTC are an important mechanism to promote concerted fisheries management approaches, and this decision by Colombia contributes to a more effective IATTC, at a time when a recent WWF report entitled Progress Made by Tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), highlights the poor performance in the field of tuna stocks conservation and management by almost all member governments of the RFMO. According to the four environmental organizations, Colombia’s decision represents a great step forward, but can only be effective if other fisheries in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) adopt the same approach. Additionally, they invite all member nations to advance further conservation measures such as the regulation of FAD's, regulation of other fishing practices and vessel sizes across to assure the long term sustainability of the resource across the Pacific.