The tuna fishing industry represented by Europêche is calling on the EU and Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) parties to take action on large-scale pelagic drift net fishing during the next IOTC meeting.
Europêche said that large-scale pelagic drift net fishing is still being carried out on a significant scale in the Indian Ocean. This is despite a 1991 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) moratorium on all large-scale pelagic drift net fishing and concerns expressed by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) in 2012 about wide usage in both high seas and coastal waters of the Indian Ocean, which led to the IOTC adopting a resolution that year and another in 2017 setting the prohibition to use large-scale driftnets in the whole IOTC Area.
Javier Garat, president of Europêche, declared: “One would expect things to go differently in 2021. Well, this is not the case. The IOTC will hold a Special Session between 7 and 12 March, with the focus put on the rebuilding of the stock of yellowfin tuna. The EU and Maldives have formally tabled proposals to the meeting. Despite the European Commission’s zero-tolerance approach towards IUU fishing, those proposals are still rewarding large pelagic drift net fisheries with catches of yellowfin tuna and solely tapping them on the shoulder through recommendations to improve gear configuration.”
Indian Ocean problematic
The Indian Ocean is responsible for around 20% of the total catches of yellowfin tuna and high levels of by-catch of threatened and protected species such as sharks, marine mammals and turtles, explained Europêche.
It stated that countries in the Indian Ocean were never penalised for using drift nets and in some instances increased the usage or size of these nets. It added that since 2017, the IOTC has rewarded some drift net fisheries with catch limits of yellowfin tuna, despite the existing gear ban and the fact those fisheries are poorly monitored.
In addition to IOTC and other tuna-RFMOs making drift net fisheries accountable for their actions, the EU should also consider market measures against IOTC countries not compliant with international rules, said Europêche. Otherwise, it may be too late for the yellowfin tuna stock to recover.