By Bianca Haas
From the 8th to the 12th of May the members of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) met for the 27th Session in Mauritius and ANCORS attended this meeting as an observer. This year’s key issues were the management of drifting Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) and the need to reduce the allocated catch for yellowfin tuna and bigeye tuna, which are both currently overfished and overfishing is occurring (see HERE for scientific report).
The meeting outcome was mixed with success and a lack of progress in important areas. One of the great achievements was the adoption of electronic monitoring standards, proposed by Australia. This measure requires the Commission to implement a Regional Electronic Monitoring Program and provides an alternative for members to meet the Regional Observers Scheme data requirements, without employing on-board human observers. Electronic monitoring is seen as an important addition to human observers to increase the monitoring and data collection from industrial fisheries. The IOTC is the first tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organisation that implemented electronic monitoring standards.
Unfortunately, IOTC members were not able to strengthen the management of yellowfin tuna and did not follow the scientific advice to reduce the total allowable catch. Despite several proposals on yellowfin tuna (by Kenya, Tanzania, the EU, and Mauritius) consensus was not reached. Hence, the latest measure, Resolution 21/01 on an interim plan for rebuilding the yellowfin tuna stock stays active. However, the effectiveness of this measure is seriously undermined by the objections of six members.
The IOTC had more success with bigeye tuna, which is also overfished. Members were able to adopt catch limits that follow the scientific advice (proposed by Japan). Members also adopted voluntary fisheries closures and catch reductions in the Indian Ocean region to support the rebuilding of overfished fish stocks, as proposed by Mauritius.
The management of drifting FADs is a critical issue and has become highly contentious. The IOTC previously adopted a measure on drifting FADs in a special session in Kenya, in February 2023, but this was not supported by all members and several members have since objected to the measure. To establish a measure that is acceptable for all members, Korea, and the EU proposed alternative ways forward, however, no progress has been made and the work on FADs has been deferred to next year.
Additionally, to the management of key target species, members improved the management of bycatch species and adopted measures on seabirds (proposed by Australia) and cetaceans (proposed by Korea). However, a proposal for a shark measure by the Maldives was deferred to next year due to the lack of consensus.
Overall, the IOTC members made important and innovative progress in some areas such as bycatch mitigation and the adoption of electronic monitoring standards, but key issues around the rebuilding of yellowfin tuna and FADs remain. This will increase the pressure on members to reduce the overfishing of yellowfin tuna at the meeting next year.