Shannon Hardisty, 2022

Members of the Indian Ocean tuna Commission gathered in the Seychelles in mid-May (week commencing 16 May) to discuss key conservation issues in the region. SFACT and WWF co-sponsored a meeting and gala dinner for G16 representatives highlighting two key issues: Yellowfin Tuna Stock and Drifting Fish Aggregating Devices.

Yellowfin tuna in the Indian Ocean is overfished and has been since 2015. Revised catch figures estimate that, in 2015, 403,000 tonnes of yellowfin tuna were caught by the many industrial, semi-industrial, small-scale and artisanal fisheries that are represented by the IOTC’s 30 contracting parties. In the years that have passed, several yellowfin rebuilding plans have been adopted and updated, with coastal states like Maldives pushing for responsible catch limits to be set in order to avoid further decline of the stock and harsher catch reductions in the future.

Despite this, catches of yellowfin tuna in 2020 totalled 431,000 tonnes – more than 28,000 tonnes higher than the IOTC’s Scientific Committee recommended reduction of 20% to allow the stock to recover.

To remove the exemptions that existed in previous versions of the yellowfin tuna recovery plan, a new set of reductions were adopted in 2021, assigned this time at the member state level rather than by gear-type. Objections to the plan were received from six IOTC nations: Oman, Iran, India, Somalia, Madagascar, and Indonesia, preventing the creation of a total agreed allowable catch (TAC) limit.

The Scientific Committee of the IOTC, based on the most reliable stock assessment in recent times, determined that catches should be reduced by 30% from 2020 levels to give a probability of a little less than 70% of stocks recovering by 2030. A reduction of some 130,000 tonnes, reducing catches to a little more than 300,000 tonnes – MSY (maximum sustainable yield) is c350,000 tonnes.

At the annual session of the IOTC 16-20 May, Maldives tabled a proposal calling for a 22% reduction from 2020 levels which will give a little bit more than a 50% probability of stocks recovering by 2030.

The EU tabled a proposal for no further reductions until the stock assessment had been peer-reviewed and that the matter should be reconsidered at the next annual meeting in 2023. In addition to the annual meeting, a special session will be called in early 2023, and in the meantime, discussions will take place with objectors to endeavour to accommodate their requests and persuade them to withdraw objections.

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