International Commission Fails on Conservation Measures for both Tuna and Sharks with Only Minor Steps Forward | Ecology Action Centre

International Commission Fails on Conservation Measures for both Tuna and Sharks with Only Minor Steps Forward

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, November 21, 2017

[MARRAKECH, MOROCCO] – Risky management decisions, a failure to follow science advice and a lack of negotiating transparency overshadowed this week’s work at the international body that manages the valuable bluefin tuna and other tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) concluded today with an agreement between member governments, including Canada, on a quota which would lead to a decline in the western population of bluefin tuna. The eastern quota is also now set to increase to 36,000 by 2020, the highest quota ever set, even though harvest at that level is also predicted to lead to decline. The Commission also failed to follow their own science advice which stated that the vulnerable shortfin mako shark is declining from uncontrolled fishing pressure and that all landings of these sharks should be banned immediately. 

For the western stock of bluefin tuna, on which Canada fishes, the quota was increased from 2,000 mt to 2,350 mt for each of the next three years, even though the population is still in a depleted state compared to historic levels. ICCAT committed to a 20-year rebuilding plan for this stock which ends in 2018 and so far, there has been no confirmation of stock recovery. The majority of the negotiation for this measure happened behind closed doors, and very little justification was provided for why parties felt this was an acceptable harvest level.

“We are astonished that ICCAT parties would raise the quota to a level that will lead to roughly a 7.5% population decline over just three years. Parties are abandoning their commitment to rebuilding a stock it is has worked for 19 years to save,” explains Heather Grant, Ecology Action Centre Marine Communications Coordinator who is at the meeting in Morocco. “While this was not a decision made by Canada alone, the resulting measure doesn’t live up to Canada’s domestic commitments. Canada decided not to list bluefin tuna on their Species At Risk Act earlier this year, in favor of other measures under our Fisheries Act that should still serve to rebuild and protect the population. This undermines Canada’s commitment to rebuilding depleted stocks and at-risk species.”

ICCAT’s new science assessment showed that the population of shortfin mako sharks in the North Atlantic has drastically declined and scientists recommended an immediate ban on retention to stop overfishing and begin rebuilding the stock. This follows a decade of warnings from scientists and failed attempts by ICCAT to adopt a limit on catches of this shark. This year, the Commission instead adopted a more complicated measure introducing only minimal conditions in an attempt to reduce landings, but it includes numerous exceptions. The Commission also committed to reviewing catches and the efficacy of measures in 2018 and start a rebuilding plan in 2019.

“We recognize it is a challenge for countries to immediately stop all landings of shortfin mako, which are currently caught and sold in huge numbers, however the situation is due to years of inaction, and we are deeply concerned that ICCAT failed to do what was needed,” said Shannon Arnold, Ecology Action Centre’s Marine Policy Coordinator who is at the meeting in Morocco. “In light of this failure, we turn our focus directly to mako catching countries, including Canada, who co-sponsored the proposal, to immediately cut landings and we will be holding ICCAT to their public commitment to a rebuilding plan for this stock by 2019.”

A measure that would require all fleets catching sharks to keep the fins naturally attached to the shark body when landed was once again blocked by Japan and China despite the majority of countries supporting this important measure. Canada joined as new cosponsor to the proposed measure this year, which was aimed at strengthening the pre-existing ban on shark finning (removing fins and discarding carcass at sea) that has been imposed on these fisheries.

“ICCAT as a whole showed that it is incapable of making hard decisions to conserve species at this year’s meeting, and certainly not in an open and transparent format demanded by civil society and the United Nations,” says Katie Schleit, Senior Marine Campaign Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre.  “One positive decision that ICCAT took was committing to move away from traditional annual quota negotiations for Northern albacore tuna, with Canada as a co-sponsor, towards a system of harvest strategies that can improve management effectiveness and increase transparency and predictability. ICCAT must now stay committed to adopting this new management approach for the other 7 priority stocks, including Atlantic bluefin and bigeye, by its 2020 deadline.”

The Halifax-based environmental organization, Ecology Action Centre (EAC), attended the meeting for the 8th year in a row as the only Canadian civil society group present and notes Canada’s openness to considering ENGO views in recent years. 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.

For further information, please contact:

Katie Schleit  
Senior Marine Campaign Coordinator
902-488-4078 (in Halifax)
Shannon Arnold
Marine Policy Coordinator
+212 615 218803
Heather Grant
Marine Communications Coordinator
+212 615 218739

Other Measures of Note and Background information

ICCAT parties agreed to lower the TAC for Northern Atlantic swordfish from 13,700 to 13,200 in line with scientific advice. 

ICCAT chose not to alter its tropical tuna measure this year even though the existing quota had only a 49 percent chance of rebuilding the stock by 2028 and it lacked sufficient controls to ensure the quota was not exceeded. This year, scientists confirmed that bigeye quota was exceeded by 11 percent, reducing its chance of recovery to just 38 percent by 2028. The yellowfin quota was similarly exceeded, by 16 percent.

ICCAT parties failed to pass a measure using advice from their science committee that would further protect sea turtles, which are caught in the thousands by ICCAT fisheries.

ICCAT parties failed to pass amendments updating the decades old Convention text to bring it in line with modern day best practices in fisheries management. Failure to update the text also means that ICCAT continues to lack a clear mandate for sharks making conservation measures difficult to pass.

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

The quota for eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna was set at 28,000 tonnes for 2018, 32,000 tonnes for 2019 and 36,000 tonnes for 2020, however countries could not come to agreement after a week of discussions on sharing fishing rights and has delayed decision until March 2018.

Since 2011, out of the all ICCAT countries, Canada ranks 6th in the number of Northern shortfin mako caught. Landings for these sharks in Atlantic Canada have increased in recent years, up to 85 metric tonnes in 2016.

Canada co-sponsored the fins naturally attached proposal now that they have committed to implement the same measure domestically for pelagic sharks no later than the 2018 fishing season. 

The Ecology Action Centre is a member of the Shark League for the Atlantic and Mediterranean along with Shark Advocates International, Shark Trust and Project AWARE.

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