Tropical tunas at ICCAT: moving forwards or backwards?

by Sebastian Losada

November 18, 2011

Yesterday we released shocking footage that was given to us by a whistleblower helicopter pilot who approached us with some images he had shot on a fishing vessel in the Pacific. Helicopters are often by the industry used to find tropical tunas such as yellowfin and skipjack, and also more recently to check floating objects used to attract tuna fish aggregation devices (FADs).

The problem is that FADs catch high amounts of juvenile tuna as well as other marine life, such as sharks, rays and turtles. As my colleague Sari says in her blog, FAD fishing is a widespread fishing technique, and this is also the case in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. 90% of the skipjack tuna catches made by European fleets operating in the Atlantic use FADs.

The video was very timely, since I am right now in Instanbul, attending the meeting of the organisation that discusses the management of Atlantic tunas (ICCAT).

No new measures will to be discussed here on Bluefin tuna, but one of the most important issues under discussion at this year’s Commission meeting is the management of tropical tunas and their protection against the impacts of FADs. The meeting finishes tomorrow, but so far, this is looking like a new failure by fishing nations to protect our oceans.

Given the documented impacts of FADs, it would be expected that their use would be prohibited, or at least heavily restricted. But they are actually on the rise. The expansion of FAD fishing is yet another story of how the industry operates maximizing short term financial benefits, disregarding the impacts on marine ecosystems, while governments look the other way.

While preparing for this meeting I was reviewed previous ICCAT rules for tropical fisheries, and found a 1995 ICCAT recommendation calling on its scientific committee to develop specific proposals for the regulation of the use of FADs, as well as for measures necessary to reduce the catches of undersized fish in equatorial surface fisheries. 16 years later (!) this has simply not happened and the ICCAT scientific committee actually notes in its report that FAD fishing has in fact increased in recent years.

On the contrary, while more is known about the impacts of FAD fishing, governments have been agreeing on less protection against the impacts of this unsustainable technique.

The two maps below represent the areas closed to FAD fishing agreed in 1998 and in 2004. The third one represents one of the options being considered at this meeting. It is shocking that in this context, ICCAT could choose to offer less protection to tropical tuna stocks in 2011 than it did 13 years ago.


Areas closed to FAD fishing in 1998.



Areas closed to FAD fishing in 2004.



One of the options being considered at this meeting.


Sebastian Losada is oceans senior policy adviser to Greenpeace International and has worked on the problems associated with Bluefin tuna overfishing for the last five years.

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