The 27th Session of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) concluded in Balaclava, Mauritius on Friday 12 May 2023. While there were some positive outcomes from the Session, including a new measure to reduce catches of the overfished bigeye tuna stock, the International Pole and Line Foundation (IPNLF) and Blue Marine Foundation are nonetheless very disappointed that no new measures were adopted to bring about the recovery of the region’s yellowfin tuna stock which has been overfished since 2015.
A reduction in catches of 30% from 2020 levels is urgently needed to rebuild the yellowfin stock and, although there was an opportunity to address the issue of excessive juvenile harvests of both yellowfin and bigeye tuna driven by purse seine catches in association with drifting fish aggregating devices (dFADs), the inflexibility of the EU scuppered any chance of improved management of these industrial fisheries.
IPNLF submitted evidence to the IOTC Compliance Committee showing consistent non-compliance with IOTC Resolution 19/02 – the current resolution that manages dFADs. Blue Marine has also submitted evidence in support of the legal action launched last week by French NGO BLOOM against the European Commission for its objection to IOTC Resolution 23/02 on the management of dFADs.
Martin Purves, Managing Director of IPNLF, said: “Claims of commercial confidentiality cannot continue to override the national jurisdiction of coastal states and their justified concerns about the damage caused by dFADs to tuna stocks, as well as their ghost fishing and polluting impacts on dependent marine ecosystems. There is, for instance, very little evidence that non-entangling materials are being used in the construction of dFADs, despite this having been a requirement for more than 3 years to reduce the entanglement of sharks, marine turtles or any other species.”
Furthermore, millions of juvenile tuna are caught by purse seiners around dFADs before they’ve had a chance to grow to a larger size, robbing vulnerable coastal communities of their food security and livelihoods.
The inconsistent position of the EU on the management of dFADs in the Indian Ocean remains puzzling. Drifting FAD closures or fishing closures have been implemented in all the other tropical tuna RFMOs – WCPFC, ICCAT and IATTC – with the support of the EU. These closures were applied on a precautionary basis to rebuild stocks in these regions. In the Indian Ocean, the EU continues to cite ‘a lack of scientific evidence’ as an excuse to delay implementing closures. The European Commission’s binding negotiation mandate for the IOTC in fact specifically states that the EU must “act in accordance with the objectives and principles pursued by the Union within the [CFP], notably through the precautionary approach”.
Jess Rattle, Head of Investigations at Blue Marine, said: “Not only does this stance by the EU ignore the precautionary approach and the will of a two-thirds majority of IOTC members who voted for a 72-day FAD closure in February, it also highlights blatant EU hypocrisy, whereby the EU is happy to go along with FAD closure periods in other oceans with far healthier stocks, but not in the Indian Ocean where its purse seine fleet does most of its fishing. We are supporting BLOOM in challenging the EU’s objection to the existing IOTC FADs resolution, as we believe they have acted illegally and against the fundamental principles of EU and international law.”
IPNLF and Blue Marine are convinced that effective management measures for drifting FADs are already contained in Resolution 23/02 which was adopted by a two-thirds majority at the IOTC’s Special Session in Mombasa earlier this year. We call on all the objectors to this resolution to withdraw their objections and work together with other CPCs to ensure that the lack of transparency and accountability with which purse seiners in the Indian Ocean continue to operate is addressed.
The interests of a few commercial enterprises from Spain, France and Italy who seek to profit from their fishing operations in the Indian Ocean should not outweigh the need to avoid adverse impacts on the marine environment, preserve biodiversity, maintain the integrity of marine ecosystems and minimise the risk of long-term or irreversible impacts on coastal communities and their fisheries. Some of the most vulnerable communities in the world rely on healthy tuna stocks for their food security and to secure their livelihoods and those of future generations. The EU and other nations involved in industrial fishing operations in the Indian Ocean have a moral and legal obligation to ensure that their fishing operations do not cause long-lasting damage.
 Council Decision (EU) 2019/860 of 14 May 2019 on the position to be taken on behalf of the European Union in the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), and repealing the Decision of 19 May 2014 on the position to be adopted, on behalf of the Union, in the IOTC, ELI: http://data.europa.eu/eli/dec/2019/860/oj
Image credit: Alex Hofford / Greenpeace