Atlantic Countries Abandon Responsibility to Manage Tuna Fishing Sustainably at International Meeting

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, November 19, 2018

[DUBROVNIK, CROATIA] – Fishery conservation efforts took a major step backward this week at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. A group of 52 countries that manage Atlantic tuna, swordfish, and marlin fisheries as well as bycatch species like sharks, sea turtles, and marine mammals, secured just one major agreement, a proposal on Eastern bluefin tuna. 

Even for threatened species like sea turtles and marine mammals, ICCAT parties were not able to walk away with agreements.

Shannon Arnold, Marine Program Coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, called the meeting disastrous. “The inability of countries to come together on fishing agreements and strong measures has serious implications for the health of our ecosystem, food security, and fishing livelihoods,” Arnold says.

During the annual meeting, South Africa noted that countries, here and elsewhere, are doing an incredible amount of grandstanding about conservation and the rights of developing countries, a statement Arnold agrees with.

“Ultimately, delegations seemed to have come with no intention of following that lip service with action,” Arnold says.

The sole new fishery management agreement reached at ICCAT was on Eastern bluefin tuna, a decision met with much criticism from conservation groups. “This last-minute agreement is worse than if they had just stuck with 2017 commitments,” Arnold says.

In the weeks leading up to the meeting, Europol busted an illegal bluefin tuna smuggling operation. The operation was moving upwards of 2500 tonnes of the fish across borders every year with an estimated worth of 12 Million euros. This is more than the entire catch allowed for those countries fishing in the West Atlantic, including Canada. The laundering of fish is happening through tuna fattening farms that hold wild caught tuna in cages in Mediterranean for up to a year before sending them to market.

“Despite an ongoing criminal investigation and already risky decisions to raise quotas by a record amount last year, the commission pushed through a complicated measure with loopholes built in for everyone that relaxes monitoring measures, allows a significant expansion of the problematic fattening farms, and even an extension of fishing seasons,” says Arnold.

Arnold says the decision has serious implications for fisheries in the West Atlantic, as well. “There is increasing data showing bluefin tuna from the East and West of the Atlantic migrate across the ocean and are being caught on both sides,” Arnold says. “Any illegal fish not counted under the quota system will gravely undermine the efforts to rebuild the populations of this important fish to the Canadian fishery.”

The main focus of this year’s meeting was trying to halt overfishing of bigeye tuna. Scientists advise populations will collapse by 2033 without an immediate cut to allowed quota and the huge number of juvenile fish being caught. Bigeye tuna are also caught in Canada, and are the backbone of a billion dollar global industry. The catch has been at least 20% higher than the allowed quota for the last two years and there are few limits on ever-expanding fishing capacity. The commission ended with the collapse of talks and no new agreement to manage the fishery.

Arnold says that, ultimately, it was a deadlock between developed and developing countries, demonstrating the inequities our global fishing agreements are based on. “Developed countries responsible for past overfishing are insisting on keeping their access to fish anywhere in the ocean,” Arnold says, “While, developing countries are now asserting their internationally recognized rights to fish and develop their economy.”

Canada, a minor harvester catching roughly 200 tonnes, also insisted on retaining access to 1575 tonnes, in case they want to fish in the future, while coastal developing states who have the bigeye mainly in their waters could not access more.

“As the talks broke down, the nickname ICCAT thought it had shaken years ago was revived on the floor by frustrated country delegates: The International Conspiracy to Catch all Tunas, says Arnold, “It is clearly time to change the how the governance of our international fisheries works or the fish populations will continue to plummet and people around the world will also suffer as a result.


For further information, please contact:


Shannon Arnold

Marine Program Coordinator

+1 902 329 4668




Other Measures of Note and Background information

This is the 9th year that the Ecology Action Centre, a member-based environmental charity in Nova Scotia, has attended ICCAT. They are the only Canadian civil society group present. The EAC attends to help ensure transparency and conservation consideration in decision making about the world’s shared marine resources both by Canada and other countries at ICCAT.


The Ecology Action Centre is also a member of the Shark League for the Atlantic and Mediterranean along with Shark Advocates International, Shark Trust and Project AWARE. We work together to advance responsible regional shark and ray conservation policies Full press release on ICCAT 2018 shark protection outcomes here



For sharks, Japan and China blocked a proposal supported by 26 countries, including Canada, to require that all sharks landed have their fins still attached to their bodies. ICCAT parties spent only 15 minutes out of an eight day meeting reviewing their requirements to protect the short fin mako shark that is in a dire state. It was revealed during the meeting that countries are overfishing by hundreds of tonnes already only halfway through 2018.


Western Bluefin Tuna

Last year’s management plan remains in place, Canada’s share is 2,350 metric tonne of western bluefin quota and is 22.32% or 515.59 tonnes of the overall quota. According to 2017 population assessment, the western stock is only in the range of 48-69% of its already depleted 1974 level, and just 18% of what it was in 1950


Marine Mammals

Mexico and Honduras blocked a proposal to prohibit the intentional encirclement of cetaceans, like dolphins and whales, with nets while fishing for tuna


Sea Turtles

 ICCAT parties failed to pass a measure to reduce the bycatch of sea turtles in longline fisheries, despite their science committee advising action for the last three years


Convention Amendment

ICCAT took one more step towards updating the decades-old Convention text to bring it in line with modern day best practices in fisheries management, but after seven years were still unable to adopt it at this meeting.  Failure to update the text also means that ICCAT continues to lack a clear mandate for sharks making conservation measures difficult to pass.