Canada Takes Steps on Bluefin Tuna & Shark Finning Amid Disappointing Conservation Decisions by International Fisheries Body | Ecology Action Centre

Canada Takes Steps on Bluefin Tuna & Shark Finning Amid Disappointing Conservation Decisions by International Fisheries Body

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – November 21, 2016

An Atlantic bluefin tuna landed in Halifax, NS
Photo: Heather Grant

[VILAMOURA, PORTUGAL] – The 20th Special Meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) concluded today. ICCAT members, including Canada as one of the 51 member governments, agreed to maintain the current quota for the western stock of Atlantic bluefin tuna. However, regarding the eastern stock of bluefin as well as measures for Mediterranean swordfish, and bigeye tuna, ICCAT Parties made decisions outside of the scientific advice. ICCAT also failed once again to adopt meaningful conservation measures for sharks, though minor progress was made. The Halifax-based environmental organization, Ecology Action Centre (EAC), attended the meeting as observers for the 7th year in a row– and as the only Canadian civil society group present.

ICCAT agreed to a rollover of the quota for western Atlantic bluefin tuna, the population found in Atlantic Canadian waters, which will have a new stock assessment next year. Following the next assessment, countries will have new information on the health of the eastern and western populations with which to make decisions on quota in the future. ICCAT also committed to workplans for establishing harvest strategies for tunas and swordfish which, when implemented, can help simplify the decision-making process around quotas and ensure they are set according to a pre-agreed, science-based rule.

“Canada and ICCAT Parties made the right decision not to increase the western bluefin quota this year,” says Katie Schleit, Senior Marine Campaign Coordinator at the Ecology Action Center. “We are also pleased with the increased transparency and consultation with the Canadian government at this year’s meeting.”

Two significant measures were proposed to improve the management of shark species caught in ICCAT fisheries. The first, a proposal on North and South Atlantic blue sharks — the North Atlantic portion of which are common in Canadian waters— was adopted this year. These measures will trigger future discussion if North Atlantic blue shark catches increase consistently above a level set by the Commission. However, the measure does not set any triggers for the South Atlantic stock and states that decisions will be deferred until the next stock assessment, which is scheduled for 2021.

Blue shark | Photo source: Wikimedia Commons/Mark Conlin


“The adoption of this proposal is, at least, an acknowledgement that further inaction on blue sharks – the species most frequently caught as bycatch in ICCAT fisheries – is not acceptable,” says Heather Grant, Marine Communications Campaigner also at the Ecology Action Centre. “However, this measure falls short of setting a true catch limit for both stocks, which is much needed in order to protect this vulnerable species,”

A second shark proposal to strengthen the pre-existing ban on shark finning by requiring all sharks landed to have their fins remain naturally attached to their bodies was also discussed but failed to reach an agreement, despite broad support.

“This is the 8th year that ICCAT had discussed adopting a policy on fins naturally attached – with 30 governments co-sponsoring and more speaking in support of the proposal. Unfortunately, a small minority of countries were opposed and effectively blocked the consensus needed to pass the measure,” explains Schleit. “However, we are very pleased Canada spoke strongly in favour, marking an important change of position from previous years.”

ICCAT also adopted a measure on Mediterranean swordfish that was well outside scientific advice and will do nothing to recover the population, even though the heath of this stock is in the most critical state of any managed by ICCAT. The body also failed to meaningfully address the overfishing of bigeye tuna. Finally, members of the Commission agreed to an increase of 500t for eastern bluefin tuna, which exceeds the maximum level of fishing endorsed by ICCAT scientists.

“We are extremely disappointed that the Commission made decisions outside of scientific advice, and it sets a dangerous precedent for a fisheries management body that has made efforts to salvage its reputation following past mismanagement,” says Schleit.


Background information

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 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 eight years in a row.

The proposal on North and South Atlantic blue sharks states “If the average total catch of the North Atlantic blue shark in any consecutive two years from 2017 onward exceeds the average level observed during the period 2011-2015 (i.e. 39,102 t), the Commission shall review the implementation and effectiveness of these measures. 

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For further information, please contact:

Katie Schleit                                                                    
Marine Campaign Coordinator
+1-902-488-4078 (in Portugal)
Heather Grant
Marine Communications Campaigner
+351 914 407 028 (in Portugal)
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