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EU And East-Asian Nations Clash In IOTC On Tuna Conservation

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) 13th session in Bali, Indonesia, ended two weeks ago with very few resolutions passed which aimed to assure the sustainability of tuna stocks in the Indian Ocean.

Sixteen proposals were presented in order to assure better data, less by-catch and over-catching, but only six of them were approved as resolutions for the coming year.

The European Community (EC), a member of IOTC since 1995, was the main proponent with 9 reports, followed by France (also EU) with 3, Australia and Seychelles with two each.  

These numbers show where the effort to improve the India Ocean tuna stocks management is made, and where it isn’t.

According to an EC representative, the Australian delegation was the major blocker to any conservation measure on the main targeted species such as yellowfin and bigeye: “When it comes to bycatch and shark conservation Australians are very active, but anything that can possibly affect their own fleet - such as catch limits – becomes a very sensitive issue to discuss”, our source added.

Apparently, on the last day of the meeting, the Australian delegation presented a counter-proposal for yellowfin and bigeye conservation which made it very confusing for the member countries to reach an agreement in that matter.

In addition, the European Commission noticed that many of the proposals were not taken into consideration because developing countries alleged to not have enough financial and logistical resources to implement them. Therefore, it’s included in the Commission’s future actions to help those nations to improve IOTC’s data acquisition.

Some of the proposals not approved were sharks catches mitigation, logbook on at-sea discharge of non degradable waste, swordfish, yellowfin and bigeye conservation and management, the yellowfin tuna catch documentation scheme and the ban on discards of tuna by purse-seiners.

The shark’s resolution was blocked by the Japanese and Korean delegations, which is no surprise, since they are both major consumers of shark fins, along with China.

The first resolution approved is a response to the recent performance review on the Commission, which revealed several inconsistencies with IOTC management. However, this resolution itself states not more than the fact that the Commission needs to “address” the issues and present a work plan for consideration in 2011 only.

Such distant deadline gives the impression that there’s no rush at all by the member countries to solve the tuna management problem. The second resolution – a limitation of fishing capacity – confirms the slow pace for change IOTC is taking to acquire data.

The Commission requires member countries to notify, by December 31st of this year, a list of vessels fishing for tuna in 2006-07. That’s also de deadline for countries that wish to develop their fleet to present a plan detailing type, gear, size and origin of the vessels included in the expansion.

The regional observer scheme resolution was approved to provide better quality and more quantity on data to the IOTC Scientific Committee, but shows a very limited coverage: “In order to improve the collection of scientific data, at least 5 % of the number of operations/sets for each gear type by the fleet of each CPC while fishing in the IOTC Area of 24 meters overall length and over, and under 24 meters if they fish outside their EEZs shall be covered by this observer scheme”.

This program is not to be managed by the IOTC, but by the member countries themselves. They are responsible for hiring the observers; ensure that the minimum level of coverage is met (5%) and that they alternate vessels between assignments. The countries should report the results of each trip within 90 days after the observer delivers his/her report, but this resolution only entries into force in July 2010.

The resolution on large-scale driftnets prohibition and marine turtle bycatch mitigation don’t have a schedule of implementation.

Only 19 out of the 28 member countries were participating in the last IOTC meeting. The nations present were: Australia, Belize, China, Comoros, Eritrea, France, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Philippines, Oman, Republic of Korea, Seychelles, Thailand, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Vanuatu and United Kingdom.