Blips on the Radar: Conservation Efforts for Tropical Tuna Fishing

What happened: On Dec. 6, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration announced that the United States won new conservation measures for Pacific tuna and will support inspections to interrupt illegal fishing. In addition, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) controls on floating devices that attract tuna.


While prior solutions to manage tropical tuna were approaching their expiration date, the IATTC spent two meetings in 2021 negotiating new measures. As a result, the Commission adopted new three-year management measures for yellowfin, bigeye, and skipjack tunas caught by purse seine (a giant wall of netting deployed around an entire fish area) and longline vessels in the eastern Pacific Ocean at the October meeting. In addition, they imposed a 72-day closure for purse seine vessels each year and applied additional closure days to vessels that exceed a 1,200 metric ton annual limit of bigeye tuna. The controls aim to ensure that tuna fishing in the eastern Pacific Ocean is sustainable.


Tropical tuna in the eastern Pacific Ocean gained refreshed protections and science-based catch levels under resolutions endorsed by the U.S. The IATTC adopted the tuna at its virtual meeting in October and established a framework for foreign fishing vessels to face spot inspections when they enter the port of another member nation.


The efforts made by IATTC were set in place to help conserve and continually manage tuna and other highly migratory species that cross international borders. The measures also improve a U.S. priority; the neglect of global fisheries to reduce illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing). In addition, the maneuver promotes the effort to close the world’s ports to illegal fishing and give consumers confidence that their seafood is safe and sustainable.


What’s on Tap: On Jan. 25, The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA), announced that the, the newly published 2022 allocated catch limits designed to protect the long-term health of the stock, are now in effect for 24 member nations. However, six remaining nations rejected the plan, and the stricter catch limits do not apply to these countries, hindering the progress made by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) and is also putting the entire stock at risk.


The Global Tuna Alliance (GTA) is an independent group of highly influential retailers and supply chain companies pushing for environmentally sustainable and socially responsible tuna fishing. GTA partners have announced their commitment to addressing overfishing in their seafood supply chains as a collective of businesses with significant purchasing power. Following a succession of objections to the IOTC interim rebuilding plan for yellowfin tuna, the GTA is deeply concerned that the goal is already set up for failure despite only coming into force.


The 25th Session of the IOTC took place from June 8-12 2021. Delegates agreed on an interim rebuilding plan for overfished yellowfin tuna at this meeting. The agreed measure set a total catch limit of 401,011 metric tons– just below the maximum level advised by the IOTC’s scientific committee.


Reaching this agreement was difficult, and the final measure was a combination of concessions negotiated over many hours of virtual meetings. Despite this effort, the action was intended to be applied in 2022 only; a new yellowfin stock assessment was scheduled and published in October to inform a further discussion in 2022 to apply for 2023.


Despite the negotiated concessions and the interim nature of the measure, six countries formally objected, creating further uncertainty around the future of the Indian Ocean yellowfin beyond the next 12 months.


The first notable event is the unfortunate option that allows countries to ‘opt out’ of management measures. This undermines the ability of the RFMO to deliver on its mandate and penalizes the ‘good actors.’ Even though most 24 IOTC member nations are committed to protecting yellowfin tuna stock, their efforts are undermined by the remaining six nations’ refusal to make any concessions.


More specifically, these objections put the newly agreed interim rebuilding plan for yellowfin at serious risk of failure. The scientific advice decided on a total catch of less than 403,000 metric tons (cMSY; a statistical model for estimating the maximum sustainable yield for a marine species in a designated area). The total catch allowed of the countries bound by the new rebuilding plan is 300,829 tons – which is lower than the cMSY. However, the objecting countries are not included in this data.


The old yellowfin measure, Resolution 19/01, remains conclusive for the objecting countries: Indonesia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Madagascar, Oman, and Somalia. India also objected to that resolution, and accordingly, Resolution 18/01 remains conclusive for them.


This unforeseen obstacle will create an impact on catch limits. To give an idea of the implications of these objections, GTA has determined the most recent catch data (as of 2020) for these objecting countries and assumed that they would catch the same amount in 2022. Based on this assumption, these countries would yield 144,784 tons of yellowfin in 2022, and the potential total catch would be 445,613 tons– much higher than cMSY and the second-highest yellowfin caught in the Indian Ocean ever.


For more information, questions, or comments, please contact Elspeth Shears at


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