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Greenpeace: The Rise And Fall Of The India Ocean Catch Global, June 7, 13

Where Have All the Tuna Gone?

Despite the vastness of the earth’s oceans, we have become masters at emptying them of fish in the past 60 years, pushing species such as the Pacific blue fin tuna to the brink of extinction and placing other tuna stocks such as albacore at great threat.

In 1950, just 14,760 tons of the four main species of tuna in the Indian Ocean were caught. The total catch has risen dramatically since then, to peak in 2003 at 1.17 million tons, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The FAO figures also show that the catch of albacore, yellowfin, bigeye and skipjack in the Indian Ocean has since fallen to about 836,000 tons in 2010 -- but that’s still more than a 5,500 percent increase from 60 years ago.

Data released by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) science committee last December revealed that Indian Ocean albacore stocks have in total declined by 71 percent, bigeye stocks are down 66 percent, yellowfin stocks have fallen 62 percent and skipjack stocks are 55 percent lower.

Tuna catches in the Indian Ocean have generally declined since 2005, falling by about a third in 2007 to its lowest level for more than a decade.

It is unclear, however, to what extent this was caused by Somali piracy forcing fishing activities out of the Western Indian Ocean, to decreasing stock abundance or a combination of both.

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), which oversees the region’s fisheries, now reports that three of the region’s four key tuna stocks are at ‘healthy’ levels. Yellowfin and bigeye stocks have even shown some recovery in recent assessments.

It is important to note, however, that Indian Ocean purse seine fishing fleets have in recent years shifted to the Atlantic or the Pacific due to the threat of Somali piracy, essentially shifting the Indian Ocean overfishing problem to other parts of the world.

Many of the longliners that were targeting bigeye and yellowfin have shifted to the Southern and Eastern Indian Ocean and started targeting albacore, a much less abundant species.

Tuna stocks at threat

And the global albacore tuna population is still classified as ‘Near Threatened’ on the IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species. Yellowfin tuna is classified ‘Near Threatened’, while bigeye tuna is classified ‘Vulnerable’.

But at their annual meeting, IOTC delegates meeting in Mauritius earlier this month failed to adopt a proposal to cut catches of albacore tuna by 30 percent to protect what is considered the region’s most vulnerable species.

Although IOTC members meeting in Mauritius agreed to introduce fishing limits across the region, Greenpeace believes the current situation offers little room for optimism. The Indian Ocean’s stocks hang in the balance as fishing intensifies and the region lacks the data needed to properly manage its fishing capacity and effort.
The IOTC’s Science committee warned last year in a report looking at yellowfin stock that “if the security situation [Somali pirates] in the western Indian Ocean were to improve, a rapid reversal in fleet activity in this region may lead to an increase in effort which the stock might not be able to sustain.”
It is a complex web, but these are alarm bells that should be a call to action.

The price of overfishing

Consider the case of the Pacific bluefin tuna. Some estimates suggest that stocks of Pacific bluefin have been cut by more than 90 percent due to decades of rampant, often illegal, overfishing and lax quotas.

This has lead to a record price of 155.4 million yen ($1.78 million) paid for a blue fin in a Tokyo auction in January -- a shocking example of the price of overfishing.

It is this type of overfishing that it being replicated in the Indian Ocean, where tuna fishing is poorly controlled. Too many boats are taking too many fish and these boats come from wealthier, distant nations that use wasteful and destructive fishing techniques.

The IOTC urgently needs to take control of the situation. Or do we want to pay a similar extreme price for the last Indian Ocean tuna?