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Ecuador Skipjack Catches Show Strong Increases Despite Ban

Tuna catch by the Ecuadorian fleet in the eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) has risen a considerable eight percent when comparing January to September this year with the same months in 2012. Total tuna species catch for the South American country has increased from 157,090 tons to 170,936 tons.

This hike in catch totals came from the substantial 22 percent upsurge in the amount of skipjack tuna caught in these waters by Ecuador. It seems that the higher skipjack catches are coming to the detriment of yellowfin and bigeye which took a downwards trend in the nine month period year on year.

Ecuador’s tuna fleet, in its majority, fishes for tuna using Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) which create significant amounts of by-catch of juvenile yellowfin and bigeye tuna when fishing for skipjack. It is unclear what is causing the higher skipjack catches and drop in yellowfin and bigeye. Some fisheries sources claim that the amount of individual yellowfin being caught are actually higher, but that due to their juvenile sizes the tonnage further decreases. If this assumption is correct, this could negatively affect catches of large mature yellowfin which mostly swim in schools.

Despite 51 of the 106-strong Ecuadorian tuna fleet being subject to a 60 day ban, which concluded at the end of September, the country’s skipjack catch still witnessed a considerable strengthening, from 102,660 tons in the first seven months of 2012 to 125,443 tons for the same period this year. The ban is an annual implementation by the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC).

Vice Minister of Aquaculture and Fisheries, William Moran, said the closures or biological strikes are healthy for the preservation of commercial species such as tuna: yellowfin, skipjack and bigeye.

The remaining vessels in the Ecuadorian fleet will be subject to a ban from November 18 this year to January 18 2014. This will mean the prohibition of vessels to fish for tuna fishing in the water region of the EPO in an attempt to render the stock status of the major commercial species.

A comparison of the end of year catch totals –along with scientific data- will indicate whether the IATTC ban is working properly to conserve bigeye and yellowfin stocks, or whether further implications need to be made. ISSF had earlier expressed concerns over the state of the EPO yellowfin stocks.  FAD bans have been witnessed in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, in order to sustain a reduced volume of tuna caught in this area and decrease by-catch of juvenile tuna; with further falling yellowfin and bigeye catches, the call form environmental organizations and scientists for such FAD bans in the EPO might also increase.