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ISSF and WWF staff are preparing to attend the annual meeting of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), the group responsible for managing tuna fisheries in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, in Bilbao, Spain, this month.

As we do, we’re recalling the good outcomes from last year’s meeting, where important WWF and ISSF “asks” to the Commission consistent with scientific advice were met, including:

  • The adoption of technical definition of a non-entangling FAD design
  • The adoption of a binding measure to ensure the safety at sea for human observers, including those on carrier vessels
  • Requiring IMO numbers for all fishing vessels of more than 12m

The Commission meeting did fall short, however, on a number of important issues like increased observer coverage for the longline fleet and smaller purse seiners; strengthened protection for sharks and sea turtles; and provision of raw FAD buoy data to the IATTC that are received by original users like vessels or fishing companies.

That’s why 2019 position statements from ISSF and WWF urge action on these topics, among other important issues.

Why Electronic Monitoring and Reporting?

Electronic monitoring and reporting (EM/ER) has been effectively implemented in longline and purse seine fisheries for at least two decades. And now thanks to improved technology and decreasing costs, it can be broadly expanded across fleets to play a viable role in attaining 100% observer coverage, thereby strengthening fishery data collection and monitoring. 

EM/ER can provide robust scientific data to meet multiple management needs: the development of effective conservation and management decisions and harvest strategies; and the monitoring of implementation of these decisions, as well as of bycatch mitigation measures regarding sea turtles, seabirds, sharks and rays. 

Further, electronic monitoring systems on tuna vessels can deliver essential quantitative data on FAD deployments, designs, sets and catch per effort — as a complement to human observer reporting, or to increase overall coverage rates. (IATTC’s current observer requirement for longliners is, after all, is still a paltry minimum of 5%, and small purse-seine vessels do not have to carry observers. We urge IATTC to increase these coverage rates to 100%.)

Even on large scale purse seine vessels in the IATTC region, with 100% human observer coverage, EM systems can capture information that is difficult for human observers to gather, such as seeing all FAD deployments and bycatch handling on the deck, or sampling from larger catch volumes in the net to estimate tuna species and size composition. Last year, IATTC’s own scientific staff sounded the alarm about the growing number of FAD sets. A better understanding of FAD deployments, as well as more complete information on FAD numbers and FAD sets per vessel, will help IATTC develop and implement more targeted, science-driven management measures.

As a research scientist and a fisheries manager, respectively, we are eager for EM to be implemented in the EPO for yet another reason, which won’t surprise anyone following this co-writer’s research in recent years. EM technology can monitor the use of non-entangling (NE) FAD designs — long advocated by ISSF and WWF — as well as the eventual use of less-harmful and biodegradable FADs.

Finally, EM can shed light on at-sea transshipment activities. At-sea transshipment has grown by 67% between 2012 and 2017 in the IATTC Convention Area, with bigeye and albacore tuna — two major commercial species — making up a large majority of the transfers.

While transshipment has increased, IATTC management regulations have not kept pace with best practices. For instance, the IATTC regulations, last updated in 2012, do not require carrier vessels to be flagged to a Contracting Party or Cooperating Non-Member; reports to be submitted in near-real time; or carrier and observer reports to be shared with appropriate authorities. EM can be a solution here as well.

Guidance for Implementing Electronic Monitoring

ISSF and WWF are asking IATTC to make accelerated progress on electronic monitoring and reporting. We’re urging IATTC to follow the recommendations of its Scientific Advisory Committee and the Joint Tuna RFMO FAD Working Group to develop electronic monitoring and reporting standards for longline and purse seine vessels, ultimately achieving 100% observer coverage in the longline fishery and for all vessel classes in the purse seine fishery.

A recent ISSF report, ISSF 2018-04: Minimum Standards for Electronic Monitoring in Tropical Tuna Purse Seine Fisheries, recommends best practices for electronic monitoring systems (EMS), including:

  • EMS should be tested and certified by a third party.
  • EMS should be tamper proof and able to capture four months of data at minimum.
  • EMS must be independent from the crew during a trip (except for system maintenance). EMS software should allow the effective, efficient review of images.

Many of these recommendations are relevant to longline fisheries as well (see ISSF 2016-07: Application of Electronic Monitoring Systems in Tuna Longline Fisheries. International Workshop).

We urge IATTC delegations to recognize the importance of this work to ensure that fisheries in the region can continue to provide reliable jobs, consistent supply of food, and viable business and development opportunities.   

All RFMOs must continue to make demonstrable progress in carrying out their mandates to sustainably manage tuna resources for the long term. We stand ready to continue to work with all IATTC members to support their efforts and look forward to continued collaboration with all stakeholders.

Dr. Gala Moreno is an ISSF scientist-consultant, and Pablo Guerrero is Director of Fisheries for WWF-Ecuador.

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The IOTC concluded its 23rd Annual Meeting in India last week, and the results are decidedly mixed. ISSF went into the meeting with urgent calls for IOTC to take immediate steps to protect Indian Ocean yellowfin. We were also advocating for IOTC to:

  • Adopt species-specific harvest strategies as soon as possible, particularly for yellowfin tuna, and conduct a review of the limit reference points (LRPs) in Resolution 15/10 to allow for the adoption of harvest control rules by 2020
  • Address data gaps in artisanal fisheries, especially for gillnets
  • Strengthen monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) measures, such as vessel monitoring systems (VMS) and the regional observer scheme (ROS)
  • Strengthen fish aggregating device (FAD) management, including of supply and tender vessels; ensure full implementation of non-entangling FADs; and support testing of biodegradable FADs
  • Require 100% observer coverage on large-scale purse seine vessels; adopt the ROS Standards for national programs; and develop electronic monitoring/electronic reporting (EM/ER) standards so that EM can be used to ultimately achieve 100% observer coverage in purse seine and longline fisheries
  • Continue to strengthen the IOTC compliance assessment process

The IOTC made progress on some of these asks, but unfortunately not on our highest-priority item, which was the adoption of an effective rebuilding plan for yellowfin tuna that gives full effect to the recommendations from IOTC’s Scientific Committee. 

Positive Outcomes for FAD Management and Non-Entangling & Biodegradable FADs

ISSF is pleased that the IOTC took decisive action on FADs. The IOTC agreed to the mandatory use of non-entangling FADs from 1 January 2020 and use of biodegradable FADs from 1 January 2022. In addition, the Commission further reduced the limit on active FADs to 300 (down from 350) and the number acquired annually per purse seiner to 500 (down from 700). The IOTC also adopted a two-month FAD closure. The mandatory use of non-entangling and biodegradable FADs will reduce entanglement of sensitive species such as sharks, minimize FAD strandings on sensitive marine habitats, and reduce plastic pollution. 

These crucial steps forward on FAD management were coupled with clarification on FAD data reporting (e.g., clear articulation of the aggregation and format requirements) and the development of an intersessional program of work for FAD marking, tracking and retrieval. This intersessional work will enable in-depth discussions on the reporting of lost FADs, arrangements to alert coastal States of derelict FADs at risk of beaching in near real-time, how and who recovers the DFADs, and how the recovery costs are collected and shared.  

Yellowfin Rebuilding: Some Steps Forward, But Largely Missing the Mark

ISSF urged IOTC to adopt an effective rebuilding plan for yellowfin tuna this year that gives full effect to the scientific advice of its own Science Committee and achieves a healthy spawning biomass for the species by 2024 with at least 50% probability.

Unfortunately, the management arrangements for yellowfin that IOTC adopted last week once again do not achieve the catch reductions recommended by the Scientific Committee. This is a concerning and disappointing outcome that puts the Indian Ocean yellowfin stock at further risk. ISSF urges all Parties to work together between now and the next meeting as a matter of priority to bridge gaps and find solutions that will produce an effective rebuilding strategy that will ensure the long-term sustainability of this important resource.

While the adopted measure does not meet the scientific advice, we note that it does include some positive aspects. One of these are the provisions requiring that Parties whose fleets exceed their catch limits will have that over-catch deducted from their annual limits in future years. There is a clear need for such a provision since, in 2018, the IOTC Scientific Committee reported that catches of yellowfin tuna exceeded by 3% the management measures previously agreed by the Commission. The new measure also includes catch limits for Parties that were previously exempted from having limits. 

Despite the lack of progress on the yellowfin tuna rebuilding measure, ISSF is pleased that the Commission considered a working draft of a yellowfin tuna Management Procedure (Harvest Strategy) and committed to continue funding the management strategy evaluation work. We applaud this initial step and look forward to seeing its further development in the coming years.

Success for Manta and Devil Rays (aka Mobulids)

IOTC has joined IATTC in adopting a prohibition on retention of mobulid rays along with safe release guidelines.  As long-lived species, these rays are more susceptible to fishing pressure, so it is gratifying to see IOTC joining other RFMOs in taking steps to reduce the impact of fishing on these non-target and associated and dependent species.

Missed Opportunities: Strengthened MCS Tools and Compliance

ISSF is disappointed that there was again limited concrete progress on developing or strengthening essential monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) tools for the IOTC, including a regional VMS and observer program. Therefore, it is critical that the VMS Working Group make swift progress in considering the necessary policy related improvements for this key MCS tool.

Likewise, continued intersessional work on the regional observer program and electronic monitoring standards is essential to enabling an increase in observer coverage, particularly in those sectors that remain non-compliant with the existing — and wholly inadequate — 5% observer coverage requirement. We stand ready to work with all Parties to accelerate progress on these issues during an intersessional period in accordance with the Commission’s work plan.

Finally, the reported level of compliance by Parties, as presented in the IOTC Compliance Committee, is quite low for several important conservation measures, such as mandatory data reporting, FAD management plans, and active vessels. Strengthening the IOTC compliance assessment process is an essential body of work. In particular, ISSF remains concerned that the compliance process lacks a scheme of responses to non-compliance and a full assessment of all IOTC’s obligations and measures. We will continue to work with members of the Commission to further refine the process in line with best practices, and taking into account the lessons learned in other RFMOs. 

While there was some progress in the IOTC this year, there were big missed opportunities to ensure the long-term sustainable management of the Indian Ocean’s valuable tuna fisheries and their associated ecosystems. ISSF remains focused on taking steps forward, not backward, and will be working diligently in the weeks and months ahead with all stakeholders towards this goal.

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Posted by Claire van der Geest & Umair Shahid

Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) Member States will soon commence their 23rd session, and the rebuilding of the overfished Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna stock is a central and critical item on the agenda—again. It is high time that the IOTC adopt, and its Member States implement, a yellowfin conservation and management measure based squarely on the recommendations and advice of the IOTC’s own Scientific Committee.

Of the 4.8 million tonnes of major commercial tuna caught globally, twenty-eight percent is yellowfin tuna, second only to skipjack. Yellowfin comprises a large portion of the annual tuna catch in the Indian Ocean and scientists continue to classify Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna as being overfished and subject to overfishing.      

This stock status is the result of multiple factors. First, the IOTC adopted an interim rebuilding measure that did not require as much of a catch reduction as was recommended by the IOTC Scientific Committee. (The Committee recommended a reduction that would achieve stock rebuilding by 2024 with at least 50% probability.) Then, as the adopted interim measure has been put into practice—with increases in catches by some fleets and a failure by other fleets to meet obligations for catch reductions—it has actually resulted in an overall increase (three per cent) in yellowfin catch. That’s a perilous situation for a stock that has been subjected to fishing pressures exceeding sustainable levels.

So how do we rebuild the stock? The Commission must agree to adopt management measures that actually reduce the amount of fishing mortality, thereby reducing the amount of yellowfin tuna caught in the Indian Ocean. Together at ISSF and WWF, we are urging IOTC to:

  • Adopt an effective rebuilding plan for yellowfin tuna that gives full effect to the advice of the IOTC Scientific Committee.
    • Specifically, a plan that achieves spawning biomass of BMSY by 2024 with at least 50% probability, including through management options like time/area closures (e.g., FAD closures or total closures). These options must be based on the scientific advice, and ensure all gears harvesting yellowfin are taken into account.
  • Revise overall catch reductions to improve rebuilding potential and address the current circumstances that allow for growth in some fishery sectors. 
  • Ensure IOTC Contracting Party and Cooperating Non-Contracting Party (CPC) compliance with the rebuilding plan through the IOTC Compliance Committee. 

ISSF and WWF want to see rigorous management because yellowfin tuna is vital for food security both inside and outside the region and for economic development particularly of Indian Ocean coastal States.

Further, in addition to other priorities like enhancing FAD management, progressing harvest strategies for all tuna stocks and strengthening bycatch measures, ISSF and WWF will be working diligently with IOTC members and other stakeholders to strengthen the suite of IOTC monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) measures.

We are focused specifically this year on: (1) strengthening the IOTC vessel monitoring system and (2) enhancing the IOTC regional observer program in line with best practices. Today, we have more opportunities, in the form of alternate data collection mechanisms like electronic reporting and monitoring, which must be incorporated within the regional observer scheme (ROS) programme of work to enable data collection that supports effective monitoring of adopted measures and the ability of the IOTC to make informed management decisions.

The IOTC Member States cannot repeat the past and adopt an ineffective and weak yellowfin measure—a measure that resulted only in the further declines to the status of the stock. ISSF and WWF call upon IOTC to adopt an effective rebuilding plan for yellowfin tuna that gives full effect to the advice of the IOTC Scientific Committee and strengthen its MCS tools to ensure this valuable tuna resource is available for future generations.

Claire van der Geest is Strategic Policy Advisor for ISSF and Umair Shahid is the Indian Ocean Tuna Manager at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

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By Dr. Melanie Hutchinson

2018 was another busy year for ISSF’s scientific field teams conducting shark bycatch and tuna research in three oceans.

In the Atlantic Ocean, for example, researchers from the University of Hawaii, AZTI in Spain, and the University of Rondônia in Brazil worked with the Curazolean purse-seine vessel Pacific Star.

Our objective for this research cruise was to build on previous ISSF Bycatch Project work showing that silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) released from the net while still free swimming typically survive. In contrast, when sharks are brought onboard and released from the vessel, post-release survival rates are 16% at best.

In the Atlantic, we set out to further examine the efficacy and safety of removing sharks from the net by fishing them out with handlines, an idea that came from a skipper in one of ISSF’s Skippers Workshops. We also wanted to determine if it was practical and effective to have the crew fish sharks out during normal commercial fishing operations.

During a previous Indian Ocean cruise, we had found that fishing the sharks out of the net partially reduced shark mortality: the crew was able to remove and release around 17.2% of the sharks captured. Fishing success varied between 0% and 28.6% of sharks removed when the crew was doing the fishing. The scientists were able to remove up to 34.4% of sharks during different sets, leading us to believe that with repetition and practice, fishers could improve their skill at this method. Safe handling, however, remains an issue.

The 2018 Atlantic Ocean cruise was unique. The vessel was fishing in the waters of Gabon in July, a productive seasonal upwelling zone that attracts a large variety of pelagic predators including sharks. The vessel was more successful fishing on free schools of tuna than fishing on Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs), so instead of catching juvenile silky sharks (which make up ~85% of the shark bycatch in FAD associated sets in all oceans), the shark bycatch in the free-school sets was characterized by schools of adult silky, spinner (C. brevipinna), oceanic blacktip (C. limbatus), smooth (Sphyrna zygaena) and scalloped hammerheads (S. lewini). These sharks were large, not associated with FADs, successfully feeding on small baitfish and tuna — and not interested in the baited hooks and chum we were using for our handline experiments.

During the cruise’s 40 sets, only three were made on FADs, and those were the only times we were able to capture and release any sharks from the net to meet our research objectives. It was frustrating to be out there, knowing how much time and resources had been invested in the logistics of getting our research team onto that vessel. We did make important discoveries, however. We observed phenomenon we had never seen before and had several opportunities to tag species that are rarely encountered, including whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) and chilean devil rays (Mobula tarapacana). We tagged two whale sharks, and both survived the interactions, providing further evidence that the best handling guidelines work for this species.

We also got tags on six mobula that were captured. Despite the crew’s best efforts to get these animals back in the water safely using recommended handling methods, five of the six tagged mobula died post release. Observations of these interactions made it clear that these animals are very large, heavy, unwieldly and difficult to maneuver safely. It took a long time, sometimes over 10 minutes, to get the animal from the brail onto the cargo net and then back into the water. All of the animals that we tagged were alive at release. Some showed visible signs of trauma, including net scars from being in the sack and brail, but all swam away well.

It appears as if releasing animals using the RFMO-adopted best practices may reduce mortality in a small percentage of mobulids that are brought onboard the vessel, but the physiological impacts of the interaction cause delayed mortality in a larger proportion. As many mobulid populations are considered to be vulnerable or endangered, avoiding mobulid “hot spots” while fishing, or releasing them from the sack or while the net is still open, are the only viable means of substantially reducing purse-seine fishing’s impact on these populations. However, it should be noted that purse-seine fishing is not the main threat to these populations.

Opportunities like these, to get tags on species that are in trouble and hard to study, are priceless. As one of the authors of the best handling practices for rays and mobula adopted by the WCPFC in 2017, I was very disappointed to see firsthand that we had missed the mark. But now we have tagging data to show that we need to revisit our recommendations and implement new or additional guidelines that will have the desired effect of reducing mortality for incidental mobulid encounters. At-sea cruises provide good stepping stones for further work and remind us that improving fishing practices is an iterative process.

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World Tuna Day (May 2) celebrates tuna as an essential resource in global economic development, employment, nutrition and food security. Today marks the eighth World Tuna Day ISSF has celebrated in our organization’s history, and it is a noteworthy opportunity to look back at how far we’ve come.

ISSF launched in 2009 with eight tuna companies, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and a group of committed scientists to form a partnership focused on the conservation of tuna and bycatch reduction. In that inaugural year, we created our first global Status of Stocks Report and established our first ISSF conservation measure. We’ve added pages of technical, data-rich content and dozens of conservation measures since then. And as ISSF has grown, so too has a concern for sustainability in the industry, fisheries research initiatives and policies governing commercial tuna fishing.

As we reflect on World Tuna Day, the importance of looking back at the accomplishments made by the industry, by researchers and in the governance and management of tuna cannot be overstated. It is in that spirit that ISSF created its Decade of Discovery Timeline, highlighting milestones in our organization’s ten-year history such as:

2009

1st Technical Report: ISSF’s first technical report examines excess fishing capacity in tuna fisheries – and its conservation impacts – arguing for coordinated RFMO efforts to manage it

2010

IUU Conservation Measures: Measures 1.1 and 4.1 adopted to help eliminate illegal fishing through authorized vessel record and unique vessel identifier (IMO) approaches

2011

1st Research Cruise: Scientists in Eastern Pacific Ocean study fish aggregating device (FAD) design and fish behavior at FADs

2012

ISSF Guide to Non-Entangling FADs: ISSF publishes the go-to guide for skippers, vessel owners and fishery managers on how to design and deploy FADs that reduce entanglement of marine life

2013

Harvest Strategies: ISSF establishes developing harvest strategies as global priority for RFMO outreach

2014

Capacity transfer workshop: Outcomes of prior capacity management workshops recognize that the issue of capacity transfers is fundamental and a means of accommodating coastal states’ rights, which leads ISSF to convene the first global workshop to discuss the issue

2015

1st Compliance Report: ISSF publishes its first aggregate ISSF participating company compliance report

2016

Biodegradable FAD Workshop: Fishers and scientists brainstorm FAD designs made with natural materials to reduce marine pollution from fishing

2017

83 joint letter co-signers: Record-high number of NGOs, participating companies, tuna processors and importers, industry associations, retailers, and food service companies co-sign ISSF joint letter to RFMOs

2018

RFMO Non-entangling FAD Measures: IATTC and WCPFC join IOTC and ICCAT in incorporating non-entangling FAD designs – based on ISSF Guide to Non-Entangling FADs – in their conservation measures

2019

ISSF Seafood Sustainability Contest: ISSF invites marine science graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to submit ideas for bycatch reduction and ecosystem protection

These milestones are just a small sample of the achievements and initiatives over the last ten years that we are proud to have made a reality. There are many more accomplishments worth celebrating on this World Tuna Day, both from our organization and the many others who work hard every day to ensure the long-term sustainable use of tuna stocks. The undertaking is so substantial that it has to be a collaborative effort in order to be successful.

Our Seafood Sustainability Contest aims to unlock ideas from rising stars in tuna conservation and science. Marine-science graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who have innovative ideas for the next generation of sustainable fishing practices are invited to enter the contest, and hopefully some of their solutions will be implemented in the future.

Recognized in 2011 by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) and later established as an international event by the United Nations General Assembly to call attention to tuna’s global importance, World Tuna Day has created a day to honor the work of conservationists, fishers, fisheries managers and, perhaps most importantly, the scientists who provide the best available information to everyone involved. Today, ISSF is especially grateful to all of the partners we have worked with over the past ten years, and we remain dedicated to working with them in the pursuit of our shared sustainability goals.

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By Dr. Jefferson Murua

Dr. Jefferson Murua works in the Marine Research Division of AZTI-Tecnalia, a non-profit foundation committed to the social and economic development of the marine environment and food sector. Dr. Murua also conducts educational workshops and research on behalf of ISSF.

Another round of Skippers Workshops came to an end in 2018. This was the ninth consecutive year running, with almost 700 participants in 2018, reaching a total of 3675. Most of the participants are tuna purse seine fishers.

Workshop Photo Gallery

Click on an image to expand it and see a caption. You also can view the photos as a slideshow.

[See image gallery at iss-foundation.org] Reaching New Fleets

In this round we visited 15 locations spread across Africa, Europe, America and Asia. The workshops continue to expand to more tuna fleets, and this year we went for the first time to Dakar in Senegal and Yaizu in Japan.

We also beat our record for most participants in a single workshop, with 135 attendants in the Manta, Ecuador, workshop. Other workshops targeted smaller groups, such as those in Bermeo, Spain, where scientists had meetings with fishers company by company, to allow for the flow of information in a more familiar setting.  

These workshops use a cooperative approach in which scientists pass on information to fishers about the latest results in bycatch mitigation practices and fishers provide feedback on novel ideas to reduce bycatch and developments in fishing practices with FADs.

Biodegradable Non-Entangling FADs

In this series of workshops, a principal objective was to advance towards the use of biodegradable non-entangling FADs (BNEFADs). Fishers agreed that minimizing FAD-derived marine pollution is an important issue and were proactive about testing biodegradable materials.

Large-scale trials for FADs built with natural biodegradable materials (e.g., cotton, bamboo) are underway in the Indian Ocean, and skippers from that region provided feedback about their experience with these experiments. Further large-scale BNEFAD trials are planned for the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific Oceans this year.

Best Practices for Bycatch Release

Another theme discussed during workshops in 2018 was best practices to release bycatch from the fishing vessel deck. Fishers shared that there is a need to develop better release equipment to facilitate safe handling of large animals like sharks and manta rays.

One such tool is the hopper, a large tray that is used by some vessels to sort out the catch more efficiently. Fishers using the hopper thought it was very useful and encouraged other boats to start utilizing them, too.

For small- and medium-scale purse seine vessels, these options are not viable, and other solutions need to be tailored for their kind of boats. This is the case for example with the Indonesian fleet, where most vessels are under 100 GT. In 2018, the train-the-trainer program, through which trained Indonesian scientists conduct workshops in ports spread across the Indonesian archipelago, continued in operation with workshops in ports like Bitung, Prigi and Pekalongan. 

In 2019, we have just started a new round of workshops and plan to continue engaging with fishers from all over the world to improve the sustainability of tuna fisheries. Fishers must remain involved in developing bycatch solutions and best practices because they are the principal actors in the fishery.

For more on the ISSF Skippers Workshops in 2018, read the technical report ISSF 2019-01: ISSF Skippers Workshops Round 8

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Science-based approaches to sustainable tuna are only effective if they are implemented. That’s why ISSF advocates to tuna RFMOs and their member nations – both through directly and through the efforts of ISSF participants and stakeholders – for policies and approaches that foster real, positive change for the long term sustainability of global tuna fisheries. The end of the year is an apt occasion to assess the impact of our efforts. What’s been accomplished in the world of tuna conservation and management? And what opportunities were missed in 2018 that set the course for 2019?

Top RFMO Wins in 2018

There were two developments at tuna RFMOs in 2018 that are especially exciting:

  • A new requirement for the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) designs that reduce entanglement in Pacific tuna fisheries; and
  • The modernization of vessel monitoring systems requirements for Atlantic fisheries.

FADs are man-made floating objects specifically designed to attract and aggregate fish. FADs are widely used as a fishing gear due to the efficiency advantage they provide. But because FADs can be associated with negative ecosystem impacts, such as higher bycatch through entanglement of some species and beaching (when a FAD that was previously drifting at sea washes ashore and becomes grounded or entangled on a reef), better design and management of these devices is on ISSF’s list of top “asks” for all tuna RFMOs.

Just this month, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) adopted a binding requirement for the use of lower-entangling FAD designs as of 1 January 2020 – making these designs mandatory in all four tuna RFMOs. This move will ensure consistent implementation of this gear design across the tuna fisheries of the wider Pacific Ocean, given the progress achieved by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) on non-entangling FADs earlier this year. And it’s a collaborative success, achieved by scientists, RFMO decision-makers, NGOs, and the vessel community working together. We’ll be working to promote more of the same in the New Year: Diverse stakeholders cooperating to better protect marine life.

Combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities across tuna fisheries is another global and critical mission for ISSF. Important components of that fight — from strengthening vessel monitoring systems (VMS) to better managing at-sea transshipment — continue as priorities in ISSF RFMO position statements. We were pleased that ICCAT acted to modernize its vessel monitoring systems requirement this year, specifically, so that the collection and transmission of data occurs at least every hour for purse seine vessels and at least every two hours for other vessels (the previous measure required a four-hour frequency). This has been one of ISSF’s long-standing best-practice “asks”.

More Progress: FADs and Fighting IUU

Here are the other wins across the world’s tuna RFMOS we’re applauding as progress toward sustainable tuna fisheries.

Biodegradable FADs

  • IOTC adopted a proposal for a biodegradable FAD experiment to address marine debris and entanglement in marine habitats from FADs. ISSF is a partner in this EU-backed-and-funded project and has already collaborated in the Indian Ocean with coastal states, NGOs and purse seine fleets on similar research. ISSF is also partner in a FAO Common Oceans ABNJ Project to trial at-sea biodegradable FADs in the Atlantic Ocean, which will begin in 2019.

Stronger Weapons in the Fight against IUU

  • IOTC and ICCAT intensified their fight against IUU activities by enhancing its IUU vessel listing processes. This move enables the cross-listing of vessels included on the IUU vessel lists of other RFMOs — an improvement we have been advocating for in the RFMOs as abest practice. In particular, ICCAT now will allow the cross listing of vessels listed by non-tuna RFMOs (like carrier vessels), and it removed the measure’s previous limitation to fishing vessels of 12m or greater.
  • IOTC and WCPFC made strides in toughening their regulation of at-sea transshipment. The IOTC defined “large-scale tunalongline vessel,” a long-standing ISSF ask, and the WCPFC agreed to establish a working group in 2019 to improve and strengthen its transshipment measure.
  • IATTC and WCPFC amended their authorized vessel register measures to implement the new International Maritime Organization(IMO) regulations requiring IMO numbers for all fishing vessels greater than 12m. IMO numbers are critical for tracking vessels, similar to vehicle identification numbers (VINs) for cars, which follow the life of the vessel, enabling traceability.
Biggest RFMO Misses: FAD Data, Tuna Management, Observer Coverage

While I’m applauding these gains for sustainable fisheries, there were some stalemates at tuna RFMOs this year that were especially disappointing, specifically the lack of progress on:

  • Enhancing FAD data requirements in eastern Pacific and Indian Ocean tuna fisheries, and addressing the poor reporting of required FAD data overall;
  • Adopting science-based conservation measures for Atlantic Ocean tropical tunas; and
  • Observer coverage in longline and pure seine fisheries.

Science-based FAD management measures require accurate and timely data. But the continued lack of implementation of existing rules for FAD data, as well as the rejection of additional data sources, is undermining progress across RFMOs.

In the eastern Pacific Ocean, for example, despite growth in the use of FADs there and the resulting FAD-data-reporting requirements, only 47% of the required data has been received by IATTC. Further, a mere 3 out of 10 countries had sent 100% of the data required, with some countries reporting none at all. Similarly, in the Atlantic, only a handful of ICCAT fishing nations are complying with RFMO requirements for FAD data submission, seriously hindering stock and broader fisheries analyses. ICCAT has been unresponsive to ISSF’s appeals to improve the implementation of this critical reporting requirement.

The situation is the same in the Indian Ocean: Not only does FAD data collection and reporting need to be improved across all fleets, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) also needs to ensure that it closes the loophole for the use of non-entangling FADs by setting a deadline for the mandatory use of these designs.

Another disappointment occurred In the Atlantic Ocean this year, where ISSF was especially concerned with measures for bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks. That’s because the region’s bigeye stock is overfished and subject to overfishing, and yellowfin tuna may be experiencing overfishing as well. We urged the adoption of one or more measures as potential solutions.

But ICCAT failed to reach an agreement on stronger tropical tuna conservation measures. With no progress on tuna management, overfishing of tuna stocks will continue. The stocks will likely be in worse shape next year, and the negotiation of appropriate conservation measures will become even more difficult.

Finally, the lack of improvements for observer coverage was disappointing. Comprehensive observer coverage is a critical component of monitoring and management for sustainable tropical tuna fisheries. Although we were encouraged by IATTC’s adoption of a measure to ensure safety at sea for human observers, who face difficult and sometimes dangerous work, it was not a progressive year in this area:

  • WCPFC and IATTC require 100% observer coverage of large-scale purse seine vessels. Yet ICCAT and the IOTC persist in requiring only a minimum of 5% coverage for various gear types, including purse seine. ICCAT does require 100% observer coverage for all vessels 20m length overall or greater in the tropical tuna fishery, but only during a specific FAD time/area closure.
  • No RFMO increased the minimum requirement for longline fisheries, which require a mere 5% minimum coverage, and which scientists say is inadequate and is not even being met in many cases.

It is imperative that observer coverage of longline vessels globally, and purse seine vessels in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, is increased to provide effective monitoring of general fishing and important rare interaction events.

Priorities for 2019

In addition to seeking accelerated progress on the missteps noted above, in 2019 ISSF and our partners will continue to urge RFMOs to:

  • Adopt species-specific harvest strategies, including harvest control rules, and progress management strategy evaluation(MSE) work;
  • Increase observer coverage for large scale purse seiners, where it is not already 100%, and longliners and developelectronic monitoring (EM) and reporting standards that will make 100% observer coverage in both possible;
  • Strengthen conservation measures for bycatch including sea turtles, sharks and For example, we’ll again be seeking that sharks be landed with fins-naturally attached and prohibitions on mobula and manta ray retention and intentional setting;
  • Strengthen at-sea transshipment regulations and further reform of VMS and other MCS tools in all the RFMOs, in line withbest practices; and
  • Ensure the sustainable management of neritic tuna species.

There was certainly progress and a reason to toast to 2018 this New Year. And we remain focused on taking steps forward, not backward, when it comes to the long-term sustainable management of the world’s tuna fisheries and their associated ecosystems.

ISSF will continue to serve as a global bridge among all stakeholders in the year to come. And there is much work to be done in 2019 to ensure that we can celebrate a year from now.

 

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By Claire van der Geest and Bubba Cook

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) is in an enviable position. All WCPFC tuna stocks — except for Pacific Bluefin tuna — are at healthy levels. That is, the ISSF Status of the Stocks report rates these stocks as “green,” which means they are not overfished nor subject to overfishing.

Prior management actions taken by WCPFC and its member nations — as well as by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Forum Agency (FFA) and the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) coastal states for their national waters — have created this positive picture. But further improvements are needed to ensure the long-term sustainability of western and central Pacific Ocean (WCPO) resources region-wide and to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities that threaten them. 

This December’s WCPFC annual meeting presents an opportunity to review supporting measures to the tropical tuna ones already in place, measures that can bolster management of the region’s fisheries. To that end, ISSF, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and our respective stakeholders are calling on WCPFC to adopt new measures — or amend existing ones — that will:

  • Strengthen FAD management by including mandatory use of non-entangling designs, a progressive shift to biodegradable materials (excluding the buoys) in the non-entangling designs, complete reporting of FAD tracking data, and the adoption of science-based limits on FAD deployments and/or FAD sets; and
  • Strengthen management of at-sea transshipment for longline vessels to reduce the likelihood of IUU fishing activities, labour abuses, and other illicit activities, and to address ongoing non-compliance consistently identified in the WCPFC Technical and Compliance Committee (TCC).
Why FAD Management?

FADs are man-made floating objects specifically designed to attract and aggregate fish. FADs are widely used as a fishing gear due to the efficiency advantage they provide, but they can be associated with several negative ecosystem impacts, such as higher bycatch of some species and beaching (when a FAD that was previously drifting at sea washes ashore and becomes grounded or entangled on a reef).

While FAD sets account for approximately 40% of the purse-seine-caught tuna in the WCPFC, the ultimate fate of FADs remains poorly understood. In preliminary analyses, PNA tracking data from FAD buoys has proven valuable for estimating the number of active FADs and to determine FAD fate (an estimated 25% of the FADs drifted out of main fishing areas and a minimum of 5% were beached.1

Additionally, FADs often incorporate old netting that entangles marine species like sharks and can result in “ghost fishing” (where fishing gear that is lost continues to function by catching fish or ensnaring other marine animals), and the use of plastic components in FADs contributes to ocean pollution and marine debris. It is evident that managers need greater understanding of this gear to improve measures that regulate its impact. 

ISSF, in collaboration with industry, researchers and governments, has undertaken significant research on FAD designs. This research shows that the use of non-entangling FAD designs by tuna vessels minimises the capture of bycatch species, including sharks and turtles. ISSF is also leading collaborative research on biodegradable FADs, to explore how to minimise the introduction of plastic into the marine environment via FADs and beaching. 

Although the WCPFC and WCPO coastal states have implemented FAD management measures, a mandatory requirement for the use of non-entangling FAD designs remains outstanding. We’re asking WCPFC delegates to adopt provisions that detail such a requirement, as recommended by the FAD Working Group, including a clear timeframe for the mandatory use of biodegradable FADs, as proposed by FFA Members and the European Union. And we are supporting requirements for FAD tracking and the development of protocols or policies for FAD recovery.

How to Strengthen At-Sea Transshipment

Transshipment is the transfer of fish or fish products, at sea or in port, from one fishing vessel to either another fishing vessel or to a vessel used solely for the carriage of cargo, for further transport. At-sea transshipments are of special concern in fishery management since, if not properly monitored, they can complicate the collection of accurate data and the traceability of product, creating a fertile environment for IUU fishing activities.

Although the WCPFC promotes in-port transshipment, at-sea transshipment is permissible if a member country states that it is “impractical” to conduct transshipment in port. There are currently 10 countries that permit their longline vessels to conduct at-sea transshipment. This exemption has resulted in an increasing number of longline vessels conducting at-sea transshipment in the WCPO — in effect, the exception is becoming the rule.   

WCPFC reports continue to show that specific member countries persist in their non-compliance with the current WCPFC measure on transshipment. Along with failing to provide observer reports to WCPFC, these members are also not providing advance notification of the intention to tranship, nor are they reporting transshipment events — all of which are basic requirements for managed transshipments at sea. 

Given this ongoing non-compliance by some WCPFC member countries — and the availability of electronic monitoring — we echo the strong support for the TCC recommendation. We urge the Commission to undertake a thorough review of its transshipment regulation in 2019 and adopt substantive improvements.

In particular, ISSF and WWF urge the adoption of amendments that include, among others:

  • Implementing real time, or near real-time, reporting for all components of transshipments
  • Automatically including any vessels involved in transshipment breaches on the draft IUU vessel list
  • Replacing the clauses regarding the “impracticability” test and unfettered flag State authorization with clear criteria and a process for the Commission to review issued flag State transshipment at-sea authorizations against those criteria to ensure compliance

As we prepare to travel to Hawaii for this year’s WCPFC annual session, we ask that you join our efforts to achieve sustainable management of Pacific tuna fisheries: Urge your country’s support in adopting strengthened management of FADs and at-sea transshipment activities.

Claire van der Geest is Strategic Policy Advisor for ISSF and Bubba Cook is the Western and Central Pacific Ocean Tuna Programme Manager at World Wide Fund for Nature.

1WCPFC SC14 2018/MI-WP-09

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By Dr. Victor Restrepo and Holly Koehler

When I set off for Croatia for the recent annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), I was hopeful that fisheries managers in the Atlantic Ocean region would act decisively to improve the sustainability of their tropical tuna fisheries. Unfortunately, despite eight days of intense negotiations, my hopes — and the appeals of many of our colleagues and stakeholders — were not realized.

At the outset of the ICCAT meeting, ISSF was especially concerned with the fate of measures for bigeye and yellowfin tuna stocks. That’s because data show that the region’s bigeye tuna stock is overfished and subject to overfishing and that yellowfin tuna may be experiencing overfishing as well.

As a result, ISSF urged action to reduce the mortality of small bigeye and yellowfin tuna in the purse seine fishery by adopting one or more measures — in addition to fully allocated catch limits — as potential solutions; measures like:

  • Expanded time/area fishery closures and fishing effort controls
  • Limitations on the use of supply and support vessels
  • Strengthened fish aggregating device (FAD) management

But fisheries managers in the ICCAT region failed to reach an agreement on stronger tuna conservation measures; they opted to continue with the existing measures for tropical tunas for another year. We are disappointed that no science-based tuna management recommendations were approved, and we are especially concerned that no progress was made to strengthen FAD management.

With about 50 percent of the Atlantic’s tropical tuna caught using FADs, improving how managers regulate FAD use is essential to the long-term viability of the region’s fisheries. Better FAD management can help end bigeye and yellowfin overfishing in the region.

A scarcity of data is hurting the Commission’s efforts to better manage FADs. Although ICCAT requires FAD data submission for scientific use, only a handful of the region’s fishing nations are complying — thus hindering stock and broader fisheries analyses by ICCAT scientists. ISSF’s appeals to ICCAT to improve implementation of this critical reporting requirement went unanswered.

With no progress on tuna management or FADs, overfishing of bigeye — and likely yellowfin — tuna stocks will continue. The stocks will likely be in worse shape next year, and the negotiation of appropriate conservation measures will become even more difficult than it was this year.

Some Wins to Applaud

One bright spot at this year’s ICCAT meeting was progress made to fight illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing activities. First, ICCAT modernized its vessel monitoring systems (VMS) requirement, specifically, so that the collection and transmission of data occurs at least every hour for purse seine vessels and at least every two hours for other vessel types (the previous measure required a four-hour frequency). This has been one of ISSF’s long-standing best-practice asks of ICCAT.

ICCAT also adopted needed improvements to its IUU vessel listing measure by, for example, allowing the cross listing of vessels listed by non-tuna RFMOs (like carrier vessels) and removing the measure’s previous limitation to fishing vessels of 12m or greater. In addition, ICCAT adopted amendments to its recommendation on port state measures to better align with the FAO Port State Measures Agreement. Together, these actions go a long way in combating IUU activities that threaten the long-term sustainability of tuna resources.

A final important accomplishment this year was progress in modernizing the ICCAT Convention text — a great success for the Commission. These amendments will strengthen ICCAT’s mandate and tools to sustainably manage not only the tuna resources of the Atlantic, but also sharks and the broader marine ecosystem. And they will help ICCAT combat IUU activities and implement the precautionary approach to fisheries management.

I hope you will join our efforts to demand progress for Atlantic Ocean tuna fisheries. More work is obviously needed to urge precautionary and science-based action at ICCAT. ISSF will continue to work cooperatively with our diverse, multi-sector stakeholders to ensure the enduring health of tunas and ecosystems of the Atlantic Ocean.

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In the Atlantic Ocean region, managers will soon have the opportunity to improve the sustainability of their tropical tuna fisheries. They must seize that opportunity.

Two species of tuna are of special concern this year — bigeye and yellowfin. The latest data definitively indicate that the region’s bigeye tuna stock is overfished and subject to overfishing; yellowfin tuna may be experiencing overfishing as well.

How did we get here? For bigeye tuna, the total allowable catch or TAC — a control measure that limits the overall catch for a specific fish stock, as agreed to by fishery managers — has been exceeded by about 20 percent in recent years. And TACs for yellowfin tuna are exceeded by anywhere from 17 to 37 percent annually.

A major complication is that the tuna catch limit for yellowfin tuna is not allocated between fishing gears or nations operating in the Atlantic Ocean — and only partially allocated between fishing nations for bigeye. This lack of accountability regarding catch limits makes it difficult to take corrective measures when the limits are exceeded. When the adopted limits are not real limits, how can we manage a fishery?

That’s why our organization, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation — in an appeal echoed by our many stakeholders — is asking fisheries managers at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) to act decisively at their annual meeting in Croatia this month. Managers must take action to reduce the mortality of bigeye and yellowfin tuna in the purse seine fishery. Potential measures, in addition to fully allocated catch limits, could include:

  • Expanded time/area fishery closures and fishing effort controls;
  • Limitations on the use of supply and support vessels; and
  • Strengthened fish aggregating device (FAD) management.
Why FAD Management?

Fundamental to our request for strengthened FAD management is an urgent need for improved FAD data reporting at ICCAT. But why the focus on FADs in the first place?

FADs are man‑made floating objects specifically designed to encourage fish aggregation around them. In the Atlantic, they are set to drift in the open ocean (drifting FADs). FADs are widely used as a fishing method due to their high efficiency, although they have been associated with several negative ecosystem impacts, such as bycatch and overfishing.

With approximately 50 percent of the Atlantic’s tropical tuna caught using FADs, it’s clear that progress toward sustainable tuna must include improving how fisheries managers regulate FAD use. Strengthened FAD management, together with full quota accountability, can address the overfishing of bigeye and yellowfin tuna in the region, as well as effective tuna management overall.

Yet managers at ICCAT are severely constrained in their work to better manage FADs due to a fundamental lack of data. Since 2013, ICCAT has required the submission of FAD data for scientific use. But each year only a handful of the fishing nations operating in the ICCAT region are submitting the required data. What little data is submitted is typically incomplete, hindering stock and broader fisheries analyses by the ICCAT scientific committee.

ICCAT must take action in Croatia to identify those countries that continually fail to comply and to ensure that FAD data reporting requirements are met. ISSF urges managers to also listen to the experts on their scientific committee: immediately adopt the recommended definitions and data reporting formats to improve the implementation of this essential reporting requirement.

As I head off to the ICCAT meeting, I hope you will join our efforts to urge progress on these priorities by advocating for action before and during the upcoming meeting in Croatia. You can do this by meeting with (1) the national delegations that will be tabling proposals and making the decisions at the meeting, (2) vessel and industry representatives that attend as part of these national delegations and who exercise influence over the positions the governments take, and (3) FIPs, tuna processors, retailers, and buyers to encourage them to also advocate for this concrete action at ICCAT.

We will continue to work cooperatively with all ICCAT delegations to achieve positive results for the tunas and ecosystems of the Atlantic Ocean.

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