FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, November 17, 2015
[St. Julian’s, Malta] –The 24th Regular Meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) concluded today. ICCAT members, including Canada as one of the 50 member governments, agreed on a new path for tuna management including a system to reduce illegal fishing. New protections for porbeagle sharks were also adopted six years after they were first introduced. However, other sharks were denied much needed safeguards.
A New Path for Tuna Management
ICCAT’s management of Atlantic bluefun has historically plagued the organization, and impacted its credibility in high seas fisheries governance. In 2011, the western population of Atlantic bluefin tuna was assessed as endangered within Canadian waters by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Recent scientific assessments have provided glimmers of hope for the population; however, scientific uncertainty and political motives for decision making still jeopardize the future of the species.
This year, ICCAT agreed to start the process of developing new management strategies for tunas and swordfish in 2016 which, when implemented, can help prevent problems of the past and ensure healthy, productive fisheries in the future. Furthermore, ICCAT agreed on a more specific plan for albacore tuna as a first case study. These management strategies mean that countries and stakeholders can agree on the parameters for setting quotas ahead of time, so that the fish populations never reach or return to depleted levels.
The Halifax-based environmental organization, Ecology Action Centre (EAC), attended the meeting as observers – the only Canadian civil society group. EAC’s Marine Campaign Coordinator Katie Schleit feels that Canada played an important role this year.
“We were happy that Canada was helping to lead ICCAT in setting the stage for these management tools,” says Schleit. “Given that Canada has incorporated these tools domestically in other fisheries, we’re happy that Canada took this opportunity to speak up on the importance of these at ICCAT.”
ICCAT also agreed to fully implement an electronic catch documentation system for bluefin tuna in May of 2016. This precedence setting electronic system will replace a paper-based one and aims to decrease the amount of illegal catch.
However, despite scientific advice to reduce the overall catch of bigeye tuna and specifically to address the catch of juveniles, ICCAT passed a measure that failed to adequately address either.
Canada’s Shark Finally Gets More Safeguards, Other Sharks Left Behind
This year, ICCAT members finally agreed to further protect porbeagle sharks. The European Union first introduced a proposal to ban the retention of these sharks in 2009. The measure passed this year should prevent further declines in the species. It specifies the release of live sharks and if the number of porbeagles caught increases from 2014 levels, additional measures to limit catch could be implemented and enforced.
“Finally Canada and ICCAT agreed to do something for porbeagle, known as Canada’s shark, though we would have preferred a stronger measure,” says Schleit. “We hope to see that Canada will also take actions domestically to rebuild populations of these sharks, to show their commitment to the conservation of the species.”
Despite species-specific proposals for the common thresher, shortfin mako and blue sharks on the table, no agreement was reached. In addition, while a measure to further protect sharks against shark finning had more than half of the ICCAT members championing it, several countries, including Canada, failed to support it, and no agreement was reached.
ICCAT is responsible for the management of tuna and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.
The population of the western Atlantic bluefin tuna stock is at 55% of 1970s levels, a time when the species was already severely depleted. The quota for western Atlantic bluefin tuna was set to 2,000 metric tonnes for the 2015 and 2016 fishing years. Quotas for future years will be established in 2016.
Porbeagle sharks are often referred to as Canada’s shark because they spend the majority of their time in Canada’s waters. They were reassessed as endangered by COSEWIC in 2014, ten years after their first assessment. The recovery time is expected to take over 100 years. ICCAT members landed 64 tonnes of porbeagle sharks in 2014.
The most effective method of preventing shark finning is to land all sharks with their fins naturally attached to their bodies. A proposal to require fins-attached in ICCAT fisheries has been tabled for seven years in a row.
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For further information, please contact:
Marine Campaign Coordinator
+1-902-488-4078 (in Malta)