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RFMO-5 Summit: Stuck On Overcapacity Issue

The second RFMO-5 Joint Meeting ended last Friday in San Sebastian, Spain, with several steps forward in creating harmonized scientific data and very little progress in overcapacity discussions.
The summit between the five tuna RFMOs – IATTC, ICCAT, IOTC, WCPFC and CCSBT – intended to discuss the developments done after the last meeting in 2007, held in Kobe – Japan, and to establish the “San Sebastian Course of Action” for the coming two years.

In order to keep actions regarding the 14 key-areas established as “to be urgently addressed” by the RFMO-5 in 2007 going on, four workshops were scheduled last week. These workshops are to take place before the next Joint Meeting – which will be held in the United States in 2011.

The workshops are:
-      International workshop on RFMOs management of tuna fisheries;
-      Improvement and harmonization of monitoring control measures;
-      An international workshop on tuna RFMO issues relating to by-catch;
-      A tuna RFMO science coordination working group.

One and a half day of the Summit were dedicated to discuss overcapacity and possible solutions for the issue. Even though presentations pointed out specific and practical measures, most of the discussion taking place was actually political.

The open access to oceans up to today have created a situation in which developed nations owned the majority of the tuna fishing fleet worldwide regardless of their location - directly or through joint ventures.  In between that process, small islands – which host rich tuna resources within their EEZ – had very little or no access to the profits of the business and are claiming now the rights to develop their own tuna industry fleet.

However, most tuna fishing nations don’t see these inequalities as a reason to expand capacity. In other words, they know that what is increased at one end has to be cut from the other.

Therefore, although overcapacity is common-sense affecting tuna fishing and the RFMOs believe to have data enough to estimate an optimum catch level, the real issue is in translating that into the number of vessels and allocating fishing quotas.

Besides, discussions at the RFMO-5 Summit focused only on to “freeze” capacity, like reflagging vessels to developing nations for example, not in reducing it for good.

Expectations are that the workshops will serve as a channel to establish what capacity is and how that should be measured in order to allocate tuna fishing quotas, but as mentioned before, even if the data is correct economical interest will still play the major role in this process.

Countries and companies are not willing to give up their fishing rights, and talks about where and how much tuna each one can catch will be tough.
The final report of the RFMO-5 Summit is yet to be disclosed.