By Susan Jackson, Holly Koehler
Across the globe, as populations soar, a growing number of people are relying on seafood for their nutrition and their livelihood. Tuna is one of the most popular species of seafood, and the industry surrounding it is an economic engine for countless communities. With competing interests at play, and the health of the ocean’s ecosystem at stake, it can be a challenge to manage tuna fisheries grounded squarely in science and in a sustainable manner. So as we look forward to another year of diligent work in tuna sustainability in 2014, it’s important to celebrate the positive steps taken in 2013 and remind ourselves that continuous improvement is critical to making the world’s tuna supply sustainable.
Today, we’d like to focus on two specific issues that have seen significant success – data collection on fish aggregating devices (FADs) and new requirements regarding using International Maritime Organization (IMO) numbers as unique vessel identifiers (UVIs) for fishing vessels.
Managing for Sustainable Tuna
FADs are floating objects used by fishers to attract tuna and other fish, often made of bamboo and nets. Though FADs offer efficiency in time and fuel required, the drawback often associated with these devices is that they tend to attract other species of fish in addition to tuna and can lead to an increased occurrence of bycatch. More data is sorely needed to better understand the best way to use FADs while avoiding their potential negative impacts. But until this past year, lack of data collection was the greatest hindrance to developing science-based FAD management policies across the world’s tuna fishing regions. While observers in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans have been collecting data on FADs for a number of years, in no ocean was it possible to accurately know the number of FADs on the water at one time. Moreover, because these data were also not being reported by vessel skippers, it was not known how often FADs were being visited.
Thankfully, this all changed in 2013 when the regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) – the bodies responsible for the conservation and management of tunas in a designated region – in the Indian, Atlantic and Eastern Pacific Oceans adopted measures to require the collection, including by skippers, of detailed data specific to FADs and their use beginning in 2014 and 2015. These RFMOs also all agreed to measures promoting the use of “non-entangling FADs” – floating rafts that are designed to prevent marine animals from becoming tangled in the FAD itself, which can be another threat to marine life.
Unfortunately, the RFMO with purview over the waters that account for more than half of the world’s tuna catch – the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) – did not follow suit in requiring the submission of certain FAD data by vessel operators, or in advancing the use of non-entangling FAD designs in the Western and Central Pacific. This lack of action maintains the gap in knowledge for certain FAD data in one of the world’s most important tuna fisheries, and slows progress toward science-based FAD management measures in that ocean. We remain confident, however, that through continued work with WCPFC members on this very important issue, and with demonstrated success over time in the other regions, we will see the same results in the Western Pacific as we have in other RFMOs.
The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) has been supporting all four tuna RFMOs for several years as they transition to using modern management strategies that put sustainability first. But the work of our organization, and those with similar ambitions, is far from over. Because while it’s one thing to adopt transformative policies like these, we can’t forget that subsequent implementation becomes an entirely different challenge.
Combating Illegal Fishing Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is another serious problem in fisheries around the world, including in tuna fisheries. The sheer size of the ocean makes this work a monumental task. Another global priority for ISSF in 2013 was the adoption by RFMOs of a requirement that fishing vessels obtain a unique identifying number that will follow the vessel throughout its lifetime – making it far easier to track and monitor the vessel even if it changes flags or the ocean in which it operates. In an effort to combat IUU fishing activities, ISSF requires that tuna companies participating with our organization refrain from transactions with vessels that do not have a unique vessel identifier (UVI). This is a market influence mechanism to encourage tuna companies to source from trusted fishing vessels in an attempt to eliminate the illegal market.
Yet until this year, having a unique identifying number was not required by any of the four tuna RFMOS. As with the collection of FAD data, three out of four of the RFMOs took this step in 2013 and now require UVIs for vessels. This time, the Western and Central Pacific was on board while their peers in the Eastern Pacific failed to adopt a measure requiring UVIs. The adoption of an IMO number requirement in the Western Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans will strengthen the ability of regional management bodies, as well as specific countries, to monitor fishing capacity and combat illegal fishing activities worldwide.
FAD data collection policies, the use of non-entangling FADs, and stricter vessel identification rules just scratch the surface when it comes to the good work happening around the world on tuna sustainability. There is much more to be done in 2014 and beyond, and it will take continued collaboration across the public and private sectors to create the best path to success. As ISSF begins a new year, we remain committed to building such partnerships to further our mission of the adoption and implementation of science-based management measures so that tuna stocks and their ecosystem are managed comprehensively and sustainably.