Eastern Pacific Tuna Fishing Will Be Unregulated After January 1

Pacific bluefin tuna (file image)

Published Dec 7, 2020 1:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

The international rules and regulations covering the catch of tuna in the Eastern Pacific are about to go away. On January 1, the fisheries for bigeye, skipjack and yellowfin tuna will be wide open and ungoverned because the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission concluded its annual meeting without an agreement, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. 

Guillermo Moran, the headof Ecuadorian fishing industry group Tuna Conservation Group (Tunacons), told Undercurrent News that the only nation standing in the way of the 2021 regulatory scheme was Colombia. IATTC operates by consensus, and without 100 percent agreement, the group cannot issue regulations. 

“For the first time in its 70-year history, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission has completely withdrawn from management of tropical tunas. To remedy this abdication of responsibility, IATTC and its member governments should immediately schedule a special session to set rules for 2021. Unless IATTC takes this emergency action, starting Jan. 1 there will be . . . no restrictions on what gear can be used; and no consequences for the resulting harm that may occur," said Amanda Nickson, director of international fisheries for The Pew Charitable Trusts. “When meeting participants can’t reach consensus, the default should never be to simply suspend management of species . . . The need to responsibly manage fish stocks worldwide calls out for significant reforms in the predictability and stability of decision-making."

The rules for tuna fishing in the Eastern Pacific are IATTC's primary mandate, and they are intended to ensure the viability and sustainability of the multi-billion-dollar industry. Nickson called for IATTC to call a new, special session and resume its weeks of negotiations towards a management framework for 2021. She also highlighted the risk that the same failure could occur on the other side of the Pacific. 

“Now, all eyes should be on this week’s annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, where many of the same governments that took part in the IATTC meeting will come together virtually to negotiate rules for tropical tuna fishing in the western and central Pacific Ocean starting in 2021. The lack of protections for tropical tunas in the eastern Pacific makes it even more critical that WCPFC agrees to roll over its existing measure and keep these stocks on a sustainable path," said Nickson. “If WCPFC also fails to reach consensus on a measure, tropical tunas in the entire Pacific Ocean basin would be left unmanaged, threatening the viability of these $24 billion fisheries and the already tenuous status of many vulnerable populations that are impacted by these fisheries.”