Yellowfin tuna in the Indian Ocean has been overfished since 2015, with scientists warning that the stock faces collapse within the next five years if fishing pressure is not reduced. The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) – the regional body responsible for managing highly migratory stocks like yellowfin tuna – is meeting next week and could put a stop to the overfishing by introducing a responsible total allowable catch (TAC) for the stock for the first time in history.
An interim recovery plan was put in place for the stock in 2016. However, yellowfin catches have nonetheless increased every year since 2017, with the EU’s industrial purse seine fleet being by far the largest contributor to the overfishing crisis, resulting in the “predatory” EU fleet being accused of “‘neocolonial’ plundering” of tuna in the Indian Ocean earlier this year.
In March, the IOTC held an emergency session to deal specifically with the sustainability of the yellowfin tuna fishery. However, an unwillingness to negotiate, primarily on the part of the EU and other distant water fishing nations, resulted in the session ending without the adoption of a TAC or an updated rebuilding plan for the overfished stock.
Two yellowfin stock rebuilding plan proposals have now been tabled in advance of the upcoming IOTC meeting – one submitted by the EU and another submitted collectively by Maldives, Kenya, South Africa and Comoros.
The proposal tabled by Maldives correctly notes that a reduction in catch of 16.7 per cent compared to 2017 levels is required to ensure the timely recovery of the stock. This would necessitate a catch limit of roughly 341,000t.
However, having tried and failed to ensure that a similar TAC was adopted at the emergency session earlier this year, Maldives has submitted a new proposal with a new TAC of 383,000t. In addition, the Maldives proposal provides a significant catch “buffer” of over 20,000t, by assigning 2,000t catch limits to IOTC members who have fished very little or not at all in the past.
In contrast, the proposal tabled by the EU is based heavily on its previous proposal which was tabled, debated and rejected at the last IOTC session, and presents a higher catch limit of about 395,000t.
Given the uncertainty and ambiguity contained within the IOTC Scientific Committee’s most recent report, and the failure of the Scientific Committee to provide adequate advice to IOTC members at the emergency session of the Commission in March, there is a clear risk of no new stock rebuilding plan being adopted at the upcoming Commission meeting – an outcome that would be unacceptable and potentially disastrous for the at-risk yellowfin stock.
The proposal put forward by Maldives and its co-sponsors is equitable, removes all exemptions, is gear type neutral and takes into account the needs of developing coastal states and small island developing states. Importantly, it would bring about the IOTC’s first formal TAC for yellowfin tuna, and an almost 15 per cent reduction from 2019 catch levels.
A group of 15 organisations, including BLUE, WWF and IPNLF has submitted a joint statement to the IOTC in support of the Maldives’ proposal as a starting point for negotiations at the upcoming Commission meeting, stating that it is “more ambitious and equitable than the proposal tabled by the EU”.
In light of the substantial support for the Maldives’ proposal, as well as the challenges posed by virtual IOTC meetings, BLUE supports the Maldives’ proposal. We strongly encourage the EU to withdraw its proposal and to support the coastal states in their efforts to save the stock from collapse. Next week’s IOTC Commission meeting must not end without a new yellowfin rebuilding plan and the first-ever TAC for this globally important stock.