Quota in­creases for bluefin tuna, and other news


The 25th reg­u­lar meet­ing of the In­ter­na­tional Com­mis­sion for the Con­ser­va­tion of At­lantic Tu­nas con­cluded on Novem­ber 22, 2017. For those who may not be fa­mil­iar with this group, ICCAT is the re­gional fish­eries-man­age­ment or­ga­ni­za­tion re­spon­si­ble for the con­ser­va­tion and man­age­ment of tu­nas and tu­nalike species in the At­lantic Ocean and ad­ja­cent seas. Es­tab­lished in 1966, ICCAT man­ages roughly 30 highly mi­gra­tory species, in­clud­ing bill­fish, sword­fish, bluefin and big­eye tuna and a host of oth­ers fa­mil­iar to recre­ational an­glers through­out the At­lantic basin.


Once again, the hot topic of the an­nual meet­ing was eastern and western At­lantic bluefin tuna. Re­sults from the 2017 bluefin stock as­sess­ment were some­what pos­i­tive and in­di­cated that pre­cau­tion­ary, sciencebased man­age­ment was in­deed work­ing. Both eastern and western stocks are no longer ex­pe­ri­enc­ing over­fish­ing — that is, be­ing har­vested at a rate that will not achieve max­i­mum sus­tain­able yield.

There were, how­ever, some ad­di­tional un­cer­tain­ties in the 2014 as­sess­ment that were not re­solved in the 2017 as­sess­ment. Namely, we re­ally have no in­di­ca­tion of the sta­tus of either stock rel­a­tive to the biomass nec­es­sary to achieve MSY or other biomass ref­er­ence points. The ICCAT Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Re­search and Statis­tics cau­tioned that the western bluefin’s abun­dance might de­cline in com­ing years due to a num­ber of fac­tors, in­clud­ing the fish­ing out of the strong 2003 year class cou­pled with no ev­i­dence of strong new year classes bring­ing up the rear. The SCRS also warned that es­ti­mates of western stock abun­dance might

be in­flated due to in­creas­ing num­bers of eastern bluefin tuna show­ing up in the western At­lantic fish­ery.

So, what hap­pened this year? The quo­tas were in­creased for eastern and western bluefin stocks by 52 per­cent and 18 per­cent, re­spec­tively. The com­mis­sion raised the eastern bluefin quota to 36,000 met­ric tons by 2020, even though the SCRS ad­vised that a quota of 28,000 tons or less would be nec­es­sary to al­low the stock to con­tinue to grow. The western bluefin quota was set at 2,350 met­ric tons an­nu­ally through 2020, which is the high­est in a decade and also takes place dur­ing the last year of a re­build­ing plan that was ini­ti­ated in 1998. While sci­en­tists be­lieve these in­creases will still pre­vent over­fish­ing, there is con­cern that quota hikes may pre­vent these stocks from re­build­ing.


Big­eye tuna also came up short dur­ing the meet­ing. A pro­posal put forth, but ul­ti­mately shot down, would have capped the num­ber of FADs and purse-sein­ers that fish for trop­i­cal tu­nas un­til sci­ence-based mea­sures could be adopted this year. This move would have helped al­le­vi­ate some of the over­fish­ing that ju­ve­nile yel­lowfin and big­eye tuna are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing from the skip­jack tuna FAD fish­ery. The United States and sev­eral other co-spon­sors pro­posed a suite of by­catch-mit­i­ga­tion re­quire­ments, al­ready used in the U.S. pelagic long­line fish­ery, to pro­tect sea tur­tles. The mea­sures would have also helped de­pleted bill­fish stocks, but un­for­tu­nately, con­sen­sus was not achieved on the pro­posal.

There was some pos­i­tive news. ICCAT has agreed to tran­si­tion from tra­di­tional an­nual quota ne­go­ti­a­tions to pro­gres­sive har­vest strate­gies, where par­tic­i­pat­ing ICCAT coun­tries agree to a set of long-term ob­jec­tives that are based on the health of the stock. The to­tal al­low­able catch of North At­lantic sword­fish was also low­ered to keep the stock healthy, while at the same time pro­tect­ing the United States’ his­tor­i­cal quota share of the fish­ery.

Blue mar­lin are sched­uled to get a new stock as­sess­ment this year, with white mar­lin fol­low­ing next year. Based on the re­sults of these as­sess­ments, we may see mar­lin back on the ICCAT ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble in the near fu­ture.

Blue mar­lin are sched­uled to get a new stock as­sess­ment this year.

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