Widespread disappointment from ICCAT: United efforts to rebuild overfished bigeye tuna stock thrown down the drain

ICCAT meeting concludes with many participants bitterly disappointed at the Commission’s lack of support for at-risk tuna resource
Small scale tuna fishery stakeholders from the Azores and the Canary Islands, SCIAENA, and IPNLF attend the ICCAT meeting in Dubrovnik © IPNLF

Last week, more than 50 Member countries that make up the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) gathered in the Croatian city of Dubrovnik to deliberate measures aimed at tackling the long-running problem of bigeye tuna overfishing. Other important propositions on the table included supporting the recovery of bluefin tuna, mako sharks and blue marlin.

Bigeye tuna has been overfished for a number of years, and the pressure on the stock continues to rise under an ineffective management regime. Recognising the failing measures, several ICCAT members with tuna fishing interests submitted proposals to rebuild bigeye tuna. This follows last year’s ICCAT meeting in Marrakech, where South Africa proposed emergency action. Unfortunately, South Africa’s proposal was stalled amid calls for more data.

At this year’s meeting, South Africa continued to play a leading role in working towards the sustainable management of bigeye tuna. Its intention was to rebuild the stock in the shortest time frame possible. It also wanted to improve accountability and respect the rights of coastal developing states. Additionally, the European Union and Guatemala each put proposals on the table. While the interests behind all these proposals were divergent, South Africa took up the mantel to facilitate negotiations and develop one unified proposal to be discussed amongst ICCAT’s members.

The staunch efforts of the majority to see the implementation of improved management measures, including a lower catch limit, reductions on FAD fishing and adding new countries to the quota table to ensure greater accountability to the major fishing fleets were derailed. A minority of member countries blocked these proposals, which meant that a consensus could not be reached. As a result, there will be no effort forthcoming to reduce catches of bigeye tuna as recommended by ICCAT scientists. This will threaten the future of the stock and the one-by-one fishing communities that depend on the resource.

Adam Baske, Policy and Outreach Director for IPNLF, states, “IPNLF came to these negotiations to try to turn the tide for the Atlantic Ocean’s hugely valuable but vulnerable bigeye tuna stock. Unfortunately, despite more than a week of long negotiations, sleepless nights and a raft of fishing nations promising to take strong action, all we were left with at the end of the meeting were empty words. People say that ICCAT has failed, but the Commission is merely the body that reflects the will of its members. Some members clearly don’t care about the future of this fishery because it’s not their target species. It shows that ICCAT is completely incompetent when it comes to the effective management of tropical tunas.”

Another important point arising in the disagreement was that developing states wanted to ensure that their legitimate rights were recognised. This proposal was opposed by developed states who mainly seemed interested in maintaining the majority of fishing opportunities for themselves.

“The contribution that small-scale artisanal tuna fisheries in many developing states make to local economies, food security and poverty alleviation lost out once again to the interests of large industrial fleets and their corporate backers who should accept some of the responsibility for the failed negotiations.” Baske adds.

Macu da Silva, representative of the artisanal tuna fishery in the Canary Islands, shares, “We are very disappointed by the outcome of the negotiations on bigeye tuna. ICCAT will continue to allow industrial fleets to fish juveniles and, at this rate, next year the stock will be in an even worse state. This directly affects our artisanal fishermen in a very negative way, because there will be less and less fish in our waters. Our boats are small and cannot fish in distant waters. Our artisanal fleets have fished for hundreds of years without depleting tuna stocks. Unfortunately, ICCAT is operating in a way that only benefits the perpetrators.”

Siphokazi Ndudane, head of South Africa’s delegation, and Deputy Director General of the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) adds“ICCAT Contracting parties lack the will to resolve the disturbing picture on the status of bigeye tuna. During the past week, our discussions deteriorated to peripheral issues, with more focus on the individual economic interests of members than on the alarming status of our tuna stocks. Until scientific information, not politics of the day, takes centre stage at ICCAT, no amount of time will fix our common problem.”

Notes to Editors


The International Pole & Line Foundation (IPNLF) works to develop, support and promote socially and environmentally responsible pole-and-line, handline and troll (collectively called one-by-one) tuna fisheries around the world. IPNLF’s ambition is to contribute to thriving coastal fisheries, including the people, communities, businesses and seas connected with them.  As a hub for sustainably-minded organisations, we use the influence of the market to forge change through practical fishery projects and stakeholder cooperation. IPNLF membership is open to organisations involved in the one-by-one caught tuna supply chain. Allied with our Members, IPNLF demonstrates the value of one-by-one caught tuna to consumers, policymakers and throughout the supply chain. We work across science, policy and the seafood sector, using an evidence-based, solutions-focused approach with guidance from our Scientific & Technical Advisory Committee and Board of Trustees.

IPNLF was officially registered in the United Kingdom in 2012 (Charity 1145586), with branch offices in London and the Maldives, and a staff presence in Indonesia, France, North America and South Africa

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