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ISSF + WWF: The IOTC Makes Progress – Most Transparent Compliance Mauritius, May 21, 13

The following text was posted on the ISSF blog by Holly Koehler, Gerry Scott & Wetjens Dimmlich

Dr. Wetjens Dimmlich is the Indian Ocean Tuna Coordinator for the WWF Smart Fishing Initiative, and is based in the Seychelles. Holly Koehler is a senior policy advisor for the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, and Dr. Gerry Scott serves on ISSF’s Scientific Advisory Committee. They all recently returned from the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) meeting in Mauritius.
When the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission gaveled in its 17th Annual Meeting in Mauritius last week, members had before them some twenty-four proposals to consider from the EU, Australia, Mozambique, Mauritius, Maldives, France (Overseas Territories) and the Seychelles. Many of these proposals addressed issues ISSF, WWF and other like-minded groups have recommended IOTC take action upon, including: Development of harvest control rules and reference points; improved FAD management and strengthened data reporting requirements, along with mandatory use of non-entangling FADs; mandatory IMO numbers, at least for large-scale (24m and greater) tuna fishing purse-seine vessels; and greater protections for sharks. ISSF also advocated for the IOTC to make full tuna catch retention for purse-seine vessels a binding requirement.
It was a very busy week for delegations, and through much hard work in the margins and willingness to compromise and work together, by the end of the week the IOTC made a good amount of progress.
We all worked with many of the delegations in the margins of the meeting, offering advice to nations like Mauritius and the Maldives, members that came to the IOTC determined to see improvements in the IOTC’s management regime for skipjack tuna. In fact, the IOTC ultimately adopted a proposal from the Maldives on interim target and limit reference points and a decision framework for harvest control rules. This is a great outcome as it also directs the IOTC Science Committee to undertake accelerated work on these issues in 2013. The definition of reference points and establishing harvest control rules are not only sound fisheries management, but for the Maldives it is necessary for their tuna fishery MSC certification. We hope that other coastal States in other tuna RFMOs will follow the Maldives’ example and leadership. It is noteworthy that now both the IOTC and ICCAT have formalized decision frameworks along the lines of what was considered at Kobe III and recommended by that group to be taken up by the tuna RFMOs
One of the priority management improvements that ISSF called for in advance of the IOTC meeting was a comprehensive, and clear, standard for reporting data specific to FADs. Mauritius and the European Union tabled a combined proposal requiring just that, along with requiring the use of non-entangling FADs to be phased in beginning in 2014. This proposal was adopted without change. ISSF and WWF see this as another solid and progressive action taken by the IOTC.
While ISSF already requires its industry participants to refrain from transactions with vessels that do not have a unique vessel identifier (UVI), having one is not currently required for vessels to be listed on the IOTC Vessel Record. However, as we noted at the start of the week, it should be. Through leadership from another coastal State, a proposal from Mozambique was adopted requiring vessels to provide an IMO number to the IOTC vessel register if they have one, and requires that all vessels larger than 24 m must have one by 2015. Accessible IMO numbers are an important step toward controlling overcapacity.
Sharks weren’t forgotten either. Oceanic white-tip and whale sharks will now benefit from improved protection and conservation measures in the Indian Ocean. Proposals from the Maldives, Australia, EU and Japan will ban both the intentional setting on whale sharks and cetaceans and the retention of oceanic white-tip sharks.
And, the Seychelles’ proposal was also adopted, which requires purse-seine vessels to retain and land all bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tuna except those unfit for human consumption.
Without a doubt the IOTC made some great progress but it was not, by any means, a perfectly successful meeting. Nations left several issues on that table that need to be addressed, including improved compliance with RFMO obligations, requiring sharks be landed with fins-naturally attached, and the need for all nations to supply timely and accurate statistical data on catch and effort and by-catch. IOTC already has one of the most transparent compliance processes and the recent meeting of the Compliance Committee was marked with openness regarding discussing identified areas of non-compliance. However, it is time for IOTC members to take the next step and set clear milestones for improvement, and begin discussing how the Commission will respond to repeated and significant instances of non-compliance.
The IOTC was also not able to agree to a 20% reduction in fishing effort on albacore, which was the minimum reduction recommended by the IOTC Scientific Committee to ensure that the stock does not move into an overfished state in the near future. It is unfortunate that this needed action has been delayed by one more year. However, the expected intercessional work on Harvest Control Rules should contribute to generating consensus support for taking needed management actions for albacore in the near future.
Ultimately, the leadership of many coastal nations, working collaboratively with others, allowed the IOTC meeting to make substantial progress. Now ISSF and WWF staff will roll up their shirtsleeves and get to work supporting the follow through, and advocating for similar measures at the upcoming meeting of IATTC, WCPFC and ICCAT. Why? Because Fish Matter.