Pressure on IOTC over yellowfin tunaThere are growing demands for the IOTC to reduce fishing mortality for yellowfin tuna. Photo: NURP

Pressure is growing on the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission to take steps to put in place effective measures to allow the Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna stock to regenerate.

A letter from by the NGO Tuna Forum and signed by 61 supply chain companies, and addressed to the Heads of Delegation at the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), demands that the IOTC agree on measures to rebuild Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna at the 25th Session of the Commission on 7th June.

The concerned supply chain companies have urged the IOTC to adopt ‘without delay’ an effective and equitable recovery plan for yellowfin tuna, that replaces the interim measure in Resolution 19/01. Specifically, the letter states that any measure adopted by IOTC must reduce fishing mortality to a level that will rebuild the stock of yellowfin tuna within the period of two generations.

The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) has already announced a new conservation measure requiring its participating companies to reduce annual sourcing of Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna. This takes effect in the event of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) not taking action to effectively implement IOTC scientific committee advice on the reduction of yellowfin catch. The new measure is included in ISSF’s recently released IOTC position statement.

Calls for reduction in yellowfin catches

The most recent advice from the IOTC Scientific Committee (SC) recommends a reduction in yellowfin tuna catches to less than 403,000 tonnes annually, which would represent, at a minimum, an 11% reduction from 2019 catches.

“For more than a year, ISSF and our partners have been urging IOTC to heed scientific advice and act to protect Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna. But the Commission has repeatedly failed to adopt effective measures to rebuild the yellowfin stock, including at its special meeting held in March 2021,” said ISSF President Susan Jackson.

“ISSF and its participating companies are committed to the long term sustainable use of the valuable Indian Ocean tuna resources. We will take steps as needed—with scientific guidance in mind—when fisheries management falls short. And we will do so transparently through a well-established audit and compliance reporting process.”

Earlier this year European fishing industry body Europêche pointed out that  that the European Union and the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission have continued to allow loopholes to be exploited, enabling continued fishing with drift nets, despite the 1992 moratorium on all large-scale drift net fisheries.

“Their use is still widespread, especially in the Indian Ocean, 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,” Europêche states.

According to Europêche, no penalties have been imposed for the use of drift nets of up to 30km, when the accepted limit is 2500 metres.

“A long time ago the UN and the IOTC adopted a rule, red lighting the use of large pelagic drift nets. Regrettably, in the Indian Ocean many of the countries that were supposed to stop at the red light never did. This happened because these countries were never penalised,” said Europêche President Javier Garat, commenting that some drift net operators were even rewarded with catch limits for yellowfin, despite the existing gear ban and the fact those fisheries are poorly monitored, failing to comply with the minimal IOTC requirements for observer programmes or sampling in port.

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