Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) and the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF) express their relief that the 25th Session of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) has ended with the adoption of an updated resolution on an interim rebuilding plan for the Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna stock – a stock that has been overfished and subject to continued overfishing since 2015.
BLUE and IPNLF would like to commend the efforts of many IOTC members in adopting this new resolution, while especially noting the role played by the Maldives delegation in developing, amending and negotiating on their proposal, co-sponsored by Kenya, South Africa and Comoros, a version of which was adopted by the IOTC and will come into effect on 1 January 2022.
However, we note with concern the following points:
- Throughout the Session, the delegation of the European Union provided a consistent obstacle to effective negotiation by refusing to take into account the needs of developing coastal states and reduce its catch limit accordingly.
- Five IOTC contracting parties – Oman, Iran, India, Madagascar and Indonesia – objected to the adoption of the Resolution and are therefore not bound by it. However, they remain bound by previous versions of the Resolution and can still withdraw their objections within 120 days.
- As a result of these objections, a total allowable catch (TAC) has not been agreed for the stock.
- When historical catch levels for the objecting contracting parties are factored in, their exemption from the new Resolution means this interim measure is not expected to support stock rebuilding.
Achieving agreement is nonetheless an important step, and a new resolution is expected to be negotiated in 2022 using updated information and scientific advice provided by the yellowfin tuna stock assessment due to take place later this year.
Another tabled proposal, aiming to improve the management of drifting fish aggregating devices (FADs) used by industrial purse seine fleets in the region, was submitted by Kenya and co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mozambique, Pakistan, Somalia, South Africa, Indonesia and Tanzania. Despite clear appetite on the part of many coastal states for the Resolution to be adopted, the European Union, Japan and Korea in particular objected, resulting in a vote being called.
Controversy surrounding the vote on this FAD management Resolution began with the European Union calling for a secret ballot in place of the usual hand raising voting mechanism. The controversy continued when the initial results, which implied that the two-thirds majority required for the adoption of the Resolution was not reached, were contested as a result of confusion surrounding the handling of the Zoom poll’s option to abstain. It now falls to the FAO to decide on the outcome of the vote, according to their interpretation of the inclusion of notifications of abstention within the total vote count.
While the adoption of a new rebuilding plan for yellowfin tuna and complementary improvements to FAD management were rightful priorities of the Session, other proposals were also tabled and discussed. These included a proposal submitted by Maldives on skipjack tuna management, which was adopted, and a proposal from Korea to improve protection of cetaceans, which was deferred.
Charles Clover, Executive Director of Blue Marine Foundation, said: “While we are encouraged by the adoption of a new plan for yellowfin tuna and by the dedication that kept IOTC members around the table for six extra hours after a long week, we cannot ignore the shortcomings of this new resolution, nor can we ignore the selfishness of distant water fishing nations such as the EU who had the opportunity to take a leading role in solving this problem they helped create, but chose instead to play hard ball with coastal states who depend on Indian Ocean fish stocks for their very survival.”
Martin Purves, Managing Director of the International Pole and Line Foundation, said: “Although some objections meant watertight outcomes could not be achieved within the updated stock rebuilding plan, and some distant water fishing nations did everything in their power to derail efforts to improve the transparency of drifting FAD operations and mitigate the negative environmental impacts of these devices, the resolve of proactive coastal state delegations was clear for all to see in this Session. Bold actions will continue to be required to rebuild and protect the region’s tuna stocks, ecosystems and habitats. We will continue to support these efforts. We cannot allow profits to be placed above livelihoods and ocean protection!”
BLUE and IPNLF call on the IOTC to arrange a Special Session of the Commission in January 2022, to facilitate the adoption of an updated yellowfin tuna stock rebuilding plan based on the findings of the new stock assessment.
In the case of Indonesia, the objection was based on the IOTC’s re-estimation of its reported catch data. The methodology used in this re-estimation is based on data that is more than 10 years old. Indonesia has therefore disputed the re-estimation and considers its reported catch data to be reliable. Indonesia is working with the IOTC on this matter and felt it had little option but to object to the proposal, given that the catch reductions were based on re-estimated catch data which are almost 40 per cent less than reported.