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IOTC Special Bali Meeting Results: Full Of “But”s

Generally the latest IOTC meeting is experienced as failure. Mainly due to an impasse on how to allocate catch limits for tuna and swordfish amongst the Members.

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) held its 13th Session in Bali, in the Republic of Indonesia, from March 30th to April 3rd with the participation of representatives of 19 out of the 28 member countries, and the presence of cooperating states, observer states, as well as inter-governmental and nongovernmental organizations.

This was a special meeting for IOTC, as it came in the wake of the completion of a review of the performance of the Commission and growing concerns in the scientific community about the status of yellowfin tuna, one of its mains stocks.

The performance review panel identified critical shortcomings in both the structure and the functioning of the organization, and recommended a range of actions to be taken by its members.

The IOTC members instructed three of its committees to present work plans to address the issues raised, while leaving open the options to deal more carefully with the subject of a structural reform of the Commission.

In terms of conservation and management measures, the Commission reaffirmed its intention to control the size of the fleets operating in the Indian Ocean, by adopting a resolution that would allow for a more measured introduction of new vessels in the fleets of developing states, while maintaining the freeze on vessels from industrial fleets at the total tonnage these fleets had in 2006 and 2007.

However, there was no agreement to establish catch limits for yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna and swordfish due to an impasse on how to allocate catch limits amongst the Members.

Combating illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing continues with the extension of the list of IUU vessels to include boats from member states, a measure that will increase the pressure on the operators of those vessels who sometimes seek to operate under flags that have difficulties controlling their vessels.

A proposal to reinforce current measures that give port states a role in combating IUU was discussed but further consideration was deferred, while members follow the development of a new global binding agreement of port state measures being negotiated under the framework of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Similarly, there was insufficient support for a measure that would have facilitated the application of trade sanctions to states that are shown to undermine the IOTC objectives, as some members were concerned about getting involved in setting trade measures and the effectiveness and wider ramifications of the Commission taking such measures.

The Commission also considered a measure to establish a catch certification scheme for yellowfin tuna, which would document the chain of custody of the fish since harvest to market; however, this measure did not proceed due to concerns that developing states would not currently be able to implement such a scheme.

A number of measures mitigating the catches of species associated with tuna fishing were adopted. This included the establishment of a regional observer scheme, based on national implementation of observer programs; a ban on large-scale driftnets in the high seas; and the adoption of the first binding measure for the protection of marine turtles.

The observer scheme adopted includes programs for both industrial and artisanal fisheries with the goal to improve the supply of data about the fisheries operations, and to collect scientific information about the catch, including data to estimate level of bycatch and discards. However, it’s not a regional program centralized and implemented by the IOTC secretariat, but by its member countries.

Marine turtles receive now more protection with a mandatory set of actions relating to the collection and reporting of data on incidental catches, and an obligation to take actions that would reduce the chances of turtles being entangled or hooked by fishing gears.

After considerable debate, no consensus was achieved on the adoption of a measure that would have made it mandatory to land all sharks with fins attached to the carcasses and included provisions the reporting of scientific data.

The Commission members also agreed to a statement condemning the recent piracy attacks and calling on the international community to give all its support to ensure the safety of all fishing vessels and their crew in the region from acts of piracy.

The Indian Ocean tuna fishery is the second largest in the world, with catches of nearly 1.5 million metric tons of tuna and tuna-like species, of which nearly half is taken by artisanal fisheries in developing coastal states. The IOTC is composed of 28 Members States who are assisted by a Secretariat established in Seychelles.