The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) has recently released new data revealing the ongoing overfishing of yellowfin tuna in the region. Despite the species being classified as overfished since 2015 and the implementation of a rebuilding plan in 2016, overfishing continues.
While the catch of yellowfin decreased in the previous year compared to 2018, it still exceeded 100,000 metric tons. This amount is approximately 25% higher than what scientists consider necessary to have a 50% chance of rebuilding the population by 2027.
The IOTC’s upcoming annual meeting, scheduled for November 2-6, will play a crucial role in addressing this issue. It is imperative for the commission to adopt a more robust plan to rebuild the yellowfin population and strengthen its management efforts.
Challenges in yellowfin management
Managing yellowfin tuna poses challenges for the IOTC due to the involvement of more than 30 member nations in the fishery, including a significant portion of catch coming from smaller scale artisanal fishing. These different sectors have distinct management priorities, further complicating the management process. Additionally, some developing coastal states are pushing for higher catch limits to support the growth of their fishing industries.
Industrial vessels, particularly purse seiners utilizing fish aggregating devices (FADs) to attract large schools of fish, contribute to the pressure on yellowfin tuna. This indiscriminate method affects not only yellowfin but also other tuna species like skipjack and bigeye, which are attracted to FADs and subsequently caught in high numbers. Unfortunately, the IOTC has had limited success in curbing overfishing due to the lack of effective compliance measures.
Market pressure and retailers’ actions
In a bid to prompt action from the IOTC, several major seafood retailers are taking measures to address the mismanagement of Indian Ocean yellowfin. The Global Tuna Alliance, a network of retailers and supply chain companies, is advocating for a 25% reduction in catch compared to 2017 levels. Furthermore, various EU and UK-based retailers and brands, including Tesco, Co-op, Princes, and the Colruyt Group, are boycotting Indian Ocean yellowfin until an improved recovery plan is implemented.
The importance of indian ocean yellowfin tuna
The Indian Ocean yellowfin fishery holds immense value, with an end value exceeding US$4 billion in 2018. The dock value, representing the amount paid to fishers, exceeded US$1.5 billion. Given the market pressure exerted by retailers and the potential economic impact, there is a real opportunity for a comprehensive recovery plan to be established.
The path to sensible yellowfin management
Science provides a clear direction for effective yellowfin management: the adoption and enforcement of a precautionary, science-based management procedure known as a harvest strategy. This framework shifts management from short-term, annual negotiations to a long-term plan based on predefined objectives.
For Indian Ocean yellowfin, the top priority should be the rebuilding of the population. Implementing a robust procedure would enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of management, enabling the IOTC to guide the stock towards recovery and maintain a sustainable, profitable, and stable fishery.
Australia has taken the lead in proposing a yellowfin management procedure for discussion at the upcoming IOTC meeting, aiming for its adoption in 2021. If accepted, it will mark a significant milestone for the IOTC and yellowfin tuna, initiating the recovery process for this crucial species.
It is vital for the IOTC to move forward with this management procedure, undertaking the challenging work of rebuilding the yellowfin tuna population. Doing so is not only essential for the health of the species and the ocean but also crucial to safeguard the value of this billion-dollar industry and the livelihoods of those dependent on a thriving fishery for income and job security.