Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) has today called for an emergency meeting to deal with the continued overfishing of yellowfin tuna in the Indian Ocean. The call was made as part of a report published by the charity, exposing the failure of Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) member states to effectively manage the stock which, scientists say, could collapse as soon as 2026.
The report shows that the yellowfin tuna recovery plan put in place by the IOTC in 2016 has failed, for the third year in a row, to curb catches of the species listed as “near threatened” on the IUCN Red List. It also found that 94 per cent of the yellowfin caught by purse seine vessels – the dominant fishing method in the Indian Ocean – are juveniles.
Today, international food and drinks brand Princes announced that it will cut its sourcing of yellowfin in the Indian Ocean by half compared with 2017 levels. Tesco, Co-op and Belgian market-leading retailer Colruyt have all recently committed to stop sourcing yellowfin tuna from the Indian Ocean until the IOTC adopts an effective rebuilding plan for the stock.
However, IOTC member states have decided not to discuss any new conservation and management measures at this year’s Commission meeting in November due to the limitations of virtual negotiations, allowing the current, ineffective plan to be rolled over for another year.
The downside of this decision, the report states, is that the longer scientific advice remains un-implemented by IOTC members, the larger the cuts in catches will have to be when they come – if stock collapse does not intervene.
Charles Clover, Executive Director of BLUE, said: “Our report has highlighted some shocking instances of mismanagement in the Indian Ocean – from Iranian vessels illegally plundering Somali fish stocks, to fishing vessels ‘going dark’ for months at a time, and developed, distant water EU fleets misreporting huge volumes of already-overfished tuna. If the IOTC refuses to deal with its most pressing issues at the meeting next month then an emergency session must be arranged as a matter of urgency, for the good of the tuna stocks and the coastal communities that depend on them.”
The IOTC Rules of Procedure state that, during intervals between regular Sessions, the IOTC may convene special sessions of the Commission, if requested by at least one-third of its members. This would require the support of at least 11 IOTC countries.
The report also found that, for the second year in a row, catches of Indian Ocean skipjack were above the catch limit set by IOTC, effectively making the fishery unregulated. Bigeye tuna was also found to be subject to overfishing in 2019. All three species are frequently caught together around fish aggregating devices (FADs) by industrial purse seine vessels.
Jess Rattle, the report’s author, said: “We called for a 25 per cent catch reduction last year and, since then, overall catches have increased from the baseline yet again, for the third year in a row. This highlights the ongoing failure of the IOTC to manage the stock, and the urgent need for an effective and equitable recovery plan to be introduced that takes into account aspects like the unacceptable number of juvenile yellowfin tuna caught around FADs by purse seine fleets.”
The report can be downloaded here.