Ocean Equity Research

The 28th session of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission – a turning point for tuna management?

By Bianca Haas, Constance Rambourg, and Ina Tessnow-von Wysocki

The members of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) met from the 13th to the 17th of May 2024 in Bangkok, Thailand, for the 28th Session of the Commission. Due to the ongoing overfishing of yellowfin tuna (see IOTC Scientific Committee report 2023), the IOTC is gaining increasing international attention.

At this year’s Commission meeting, 24 proposals were submitted, highlighting, as noted by the Chair, Ms Jung-re Riley Kim, the importance of these fisheries for the members. Out of these 24 proposals, eleven were adopted, slightly more than 2023. Throughout the week, we saw some good progress but also significant shortcomings. In the sections below, we highlight the key successes, defined as adopting overdue proposals and proposals that support more sustainable fisheries management, as well as the shortcomings of the meeting. This blog summarises the main outcomes of the meeting; a comprehensive overview of the proposals can be found on the IOTC website.


One of the most time-consuming and important topics for this year’s Commission meeting was the negotiation on a measure for drifting fish aggregating devices (dFADs), although most of the negotiations happened in small working groups

The final proposal consisted of four merged proposals submitted by Korea, the EU, a joint proposal by the EU and Seychelles, and another joint proposal by Indonesia, Pakistan, Somalia, and South Africa, and was only discussed on the last day (see Box 1 for a summary of the new dFAD resolution). Despite the efforts of the drafting members, consensus could not be reached. To move forward, some members called for an open vote, supported by others. In the end, similarly to the special session held on dFADs in 2023, the measure was adopted by vote, with 22 of the 27 members present voting in favour. However, we have yet to see which members will submit an official objection to the newly adopted dFAD measure. Although some concerns have been raised that this proposed measure has been watered down, others have expressed the view that this measure is the first step in the right direction and that it allows some breathing room to deal with other urgent issues, such as rebuilding yellowfin tuna.

Box 1: Summary of Resolution 24/02 on management of drifting fish aggregating devices (dFADs) in the IOTC area of competence

Furthermore, the 28th session called for IOTC members to celebrate the success of adopting two management procedures (MPs): one for skipjack (proposed by the EU and co-sponsored by Australia, Maldives and the UK; i.e., Resolution 24/07) and one for swordfish (proposed by Australia and co-sponsored by the EU, Japan, and the UK; i.e., Resolution 24/08). The Commission has now agreed the long-term management objectives for these fisheries which will result in the total allowable catches being determined by the management procedure. The next step for the Commission will be to establish interim catch limits for skipjack and swordfish if an allocation framework is not agreed before the MP derived TACs are in force. This makes the IOTC the first tuna RFMO that has adopted two MPs for key tuna species (i.e., MP for bigeye was adopted in 2022) and the first tuna RFMO that has adopted an MP for non-tuna species.  


Another issue that received attention was transhipment. Three proposals were submitted on this topic (i.e., by Korea, Japan, and Indonesia), and members were able to adopt a merged resolution on establishing a programme for transhipment by large-scale fishing vessels (i.e., Resolution 24/05). Due to limited oversight, transhipment has often been linked to illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. The adopted proposal is a much needed step towards better monitoring of transhipment activities. Under the new proposal, except for large-scale tuna longline fishing vessels, all transhipment activities have to take place in port. 100% observer coverage is required for transhipment activities at sea by large-scale tuna longline fishing vessels. Overall, this proposal strengthens reporting requirements and control and surveillance of transhipment activities.

Other wins include, inter alia, the adoption of an updated climate change resolution proposed by Korea (i.e., Resolution 24/01), a non-binding recommendation on marine pollution, also proposed by Korea (i.e., Recommendation 24/11), and updated to an existing resolution banning the discard of bigeye, skipjack, and yellowfin tuna in the purse seine fishery and encourages other fishing gears to follow suit (i.e., Resolution 24/06). Moreover, amendments to the Regional Observer Program (i.e., Resolution 24/04) were also adopted, allowing members who catch IOTC managed species primarily in their EEZ with vessels less than 24m, to use alternative data collection methods, such as crew sampling, to record and report mandatory regional observers scheme data requirements.


Despite the continued overfished status of yellowfin tuna and the importance of rebuilding this species, only one proposal was submitted to update the current interim yellowfin tuna rebuilding plan (i.e., Resolution 21/01). The proposal was put forward by Pakistan, South Africa, and Iran and included catch reductions for several members. Furthermore, the proponents intended to bring the objectors of the previous measure on board (i.e., India, Indonesia, Iran, Madagascar, Oman, and Somalia), with Iran being a co-sponsor. As a result of the proposed rebuilding plan, some countries would have seen a catch increase, which did not sit well with countries that, on the other hand, had to cut their catch. Coastal developing states frequently emphasised the need to consider their coastal fisheries, noting the importance of fish for food security and local livelihoods. Those statements have often been accompanied by a call for greater catch reductions for bigger harvesters while sparing coastal developing states. However, some members were reluctant to agree to a revised yellowfin tuna rebuilding plan, indicating a preference to wait for the new stock assessment later this year. In the end, the proponents were not able to get enough support for their proposal and withdrew it. To move forward and emphasise the rebuilding of yellowfin tuna, a special session for yellowfin tuna has been proposed for next year. This proposal received considerable support from the membership.

Another proposal related to tropical tunas was to establish a fishing closure in the Indian Ocean for all gear types (proposed by the EU). However, this proposal received less attention at the plenary due to other pressing issues, and the initial statements indicated no consensus. Ultimately, the proponents withdrew their proposal and tasked the Scientific Committee with providing advice on the best closure periods for all fishing gear.  

Finally, one of the critical failures of this commission meeting relates to the withdrawal of the shark proposal. For the second consecutive time, the Maldives proposed a measure to strengthen the conservation and management of shark species and to reduce its bycatch. For the second time, no agreement could be reached.



Overall, if measuring success by virtue of the number of adopted proposals (i.e., 11 in total), it was a successful meeting. However, important progress on key issues including the rebuilding of yellowfin tuna stock, area closures, and shark management, has yet again been deferred. Generally, compared to the previous years’ meetings, the tone between members changed and was friendlier and more collegial than before. The issue of establishing an allocation regime, which has been unsuccessfully negotiated for the last 12 years, remains a significant hurdle to move forward on key issues, such as the yellowfin tuna rebuilding plan. At this year’s meeting, a new independent chair for the Technical Committee on Allocation Criteria was elected, ANCORS Professor Quentin Hanich, who now has the task of finding a way out of the gridlock that has trapped members for the last several years. Perhaps the increasingly cooperative spirit, new chairmanship, and the adoption of a dFAD measure indicate a new climate within the IOTC to make significant and bold steps, in key areas like yellowfin tuna and allocation.


We would like to thank Umair Shahid for his guidance in writing this blog.
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