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WWF welcomes key IOTC resolutions but urges stronger action for yellowfin tuna

Despite making progress towards more effective and equitable management of tuna fisheries, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission once more deferred making clear decisions that would prevent the region’s yellowfin tuna stocks from collapsing, says WWF.

Original press release.

[Mauritius] The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) adopted several promising resolutions that will have benefits for ocean conservation at its annual meeting in Mauritius this week, but it has failed to heed a science-based call to reduce the catch of yellowfin tuna in the region by 30% against a 2020 baseline, says WWF.

According to analysis by the IOTC’s own Scientific Committee, such a reduction would give declining yellowfin tuna stocks a 67% chance of recovering by 2030.

Notable resolutions that were adopted at the meeting include:
  • The voluntary closure of yellowfin tuna fisheries, or an option to voluntarily reduce annual catches, for those IOTC members that wish to display their commitment to sustainable fisheries management
  • A 15% reduction in the allowable annual catch of bigeye tuna
  • A suite of measures to reduce the bycatch of seabirds and marine mammals such as dolphins and whales
  • Standards for electronic monitoring systems on industrial fishing vessels. Such systems harness artificial intelligence and remote sensing technologies to more accurately monitor the volumes and species caught. The IOTC is the first regional fisheries management organisation to adopt such standards.
  • A long-awaited proposal – at least five years in the making – to improve compliance mechanisms.

However, a clear signal to substantially reduce the annual yellowfin tuna catch remains elusive.

“We commend the IOTC for adopting several resolutions to support marine conservation in the Indian Ocean, but the fact remains: when it comes to yellowfin tuna, we are eating our capital ,” said Umair Shahid, WWF’s Indian Ocean Tuna Manager. “Unless we take action now to radically reduce annual catch, there will not be enough stock left to harvest in less than 10 years’ time.

“While these resolutions are welcome, they are only first and incremental steps towards better fisheries management. IOTC members now need to follow through on these resolutions and resist the temptation to lodge spurious objections without the backing of irrefutable scientific evidence, as has happened in the past.”

WWF now plans to intensify its engagement with the global seafood supply chain, including prominent retailers, to plan for the long term and commit to alternative sourcing strategies. “Time and again, our governments have failed to commit to concrete measures for yellowfin tuna,” said Shahid. “We now need to find alternative avenues to ensure that we have sufficient stocks to feed tomorrow’s generations.”

Key points
  • WWF requested a 30% reduction in catch level from a 2020 baseline to provide a two-thirds chance of rebuilding Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna stocks by 2030.
  • This request was based on recent analysis by the IOTC’s own Scientific Committee. Source: Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (2022) Report of the 24th Session of the IOTC Scientific Committee.
  • WWF commends the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission for adopting several important resolutions at this year’s annual meeting in Mauritius, including resolutions to reduce annual bigeye tuna catches by 15%; to improve compliance mechanisms; and on standards for electronic monitoring systems, which allow for artificial intelligence-empowered remote sensors to track the species and volumes of fish caught on industrial fishing vessels.
  • However, a clear, multi-year, science-based plan to rebuild Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna populations over the next decade remains elusive.
  • A new WWF report published last week revealed that nearly half of all tuna fishing effort in the South West Indian Ocean alone was potentially illegal or unregulated activity between 2016 and 2021. A new compliance mechanism is now adopted in the hope that transparency, accountability and support can improve the fight against IUU fishing in the region.
  • The following are voting members of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission: Australia, Bangladesh, China, The Comoros, Eritrea, European Union, France, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Pakistan, Seychelles, Somalia, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, United Kingdom and Yemen. Source: https://iotc.org/about-iotc/structure-commission.
  • The Indian Ocean’s yellowfin tuna fishery was valued at more than US$4 billion in 2018. Source: Pew Charitable Trusts (2020) Netting Billions 2020: A Global Tuna Valuation.

For more information
WWF International media team
WWF South Western Indian Ocean (SWIO) communications team