Blue Marine Foundation expresses its disappointment at the continued refusal of the European Union to manage its industrial distant-water tuna fleet in a responsible or sustainable manner.
Earlier this year, a new and robust resolution governing the use of harmful drifting fish aggregating devices (dFADs) used by the Spanish and French purse seine fleets was adopted, with a two-thirds majority, by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC). Not only are dFADs lost or discarded in their thousands, resulting in plastic pollution and damage to sensitive marine habitats, but countless endangered, threatened and protected species also fall victim to drifting FADs, either as bycatch or through entanglement.
The EU objected to IOTC Resolution 23/02 on dFADs, despite supporting similar measures in other oceans where its fleet does not fish as much. This objection has been challenged by Blue Marine and BLOOM as it is in breach of EU law and, in particular, in breach of the precautionary principle. The European Commission is required to review its objection on grounds of illegality.
In addition to the objections tabled by the EU and France (by virtue of its overseas territories in the Indian Ocean), all four other countries to which the EU has expanded its fishing empire also followed suit. Mauritius, Seychelles, Tanzania and Oman, all of which allow EU-owned purse seine vessels to fly their flags of convenience, joined the EU in filing objections to the dFAD resolution. The EU received enough support by yesterday’s deadline to have the IOTC declare the resolution to be non-binding.
Blue Marine understands that, if the EU’s objection is found to be unlawful, the total number of objections will drop below the threshold and Resolution 23/02 will become binding on the EU fleet.
Tuna stocks in the Indian Ocean are some of the worst managed stocks in the world. Both yellowfin and bigeye tuna are overfished, and skipjack has been fished at levels well above scientific advice for the past four years. A very high proportion of these tunas – 97% in the case of yellowfin – when caught by purse seine vessels around dFADs in the region are juveniles, further impacting the health of the stocks.
Despite this overfishing crisis unfolding in the Indian Ocean, the EU continues to be the largest harvester of chronically overfished Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna, and of tropical tuna in general in the Indian Ocean. The EU-owned tuna purse seine fishing fleet (including the vessels flagged to Mauritius and Seychelles) caught almost 390,000 tonnes of skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye in 2021 – a third of the entire tropical tuna catch in the Indian Ocean, and an increase of 40% from 2015, when yellowfin tuna was first found to be overfished. This has been achieved through increasing the use of drifting FADs.
Blue Marine expresses its regret that the behaviour of the EU has now made it necessary to look to the market to implement the changes that are needed to protect Indian Ocean tuna stocks, for the benefit of the marine environment and the coastal communities that depend on healthy tuna stocks for food security and livelihoods.
Image credit: Alex Hofford/Greenpeace