September 7, 2022
Officer, International Fisheries
Feeding the world’s growing population will require fisheries management to become more effective. Fortunately, we know how to do that. And putting in place harvest control rules in tuna fisheries is an important step to ensuring their long-term productivity for the people whose jobs and food security rely on them.
That’s one recommendation from the recently released report on world fisheries by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Published every two years, this leading report, “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture,” more commonly known by its acronym, SOFIA, paints a sobering but hopeful view of world fisheries.
“Effective management, including better reporting and access to data and the implementation of harvest control rules across all tuna stocks, is needed to maintain stocks at a sustainable level and in particular rebuild overexploited stocks,” the report urges.
Harvest control rules, or HCRs for short, and a monitoring strategy that informs scientists’ understanding about stock status should be parts of a fully specified harvest strategy. HCRs are the operational component of a harvest strategy. They are essentially pre-agreed guidelines that determine how much fishing can take place, based on indicators of the targeted stock’s status.
Tunas are critical to global food production. According to the SOFIA report, skipjack tuna was the third most caught wild fish in 2020, maintaining that rank for the 11th consecutive year. Fishing vessels hauled in more than 2.8 million metric tons of skipjack in 2020, more than all other wild-caught fish species except for anchovy and Alaska pollock.
Of the stocks of the seven main species of commercially caught tunas, about 67% were being fished within biologically sustainable levels, which reflects little progress compared to the last SOFIA report two years ago. Upping the pressure on getting management right, the report warns that climate change looms as a significant stressor to marine ecosystems. That should be a call to action for management to be improved. At the same time that the impacts of climate change could really come into play, demand for these fish stocks could intensify, given that global consumption of seafood is growing faster than even the increase in the world’s population.
To feed the world, the SOFIA report says rebuilding overfished fish stocks could increase fisheries production by about 17 million metric tons, recovering $32 billion in foregone annual revenue, with benefits for the food security, nutrition, economic growth and well-being of coastal communities. To cope with climate change, the report says management needs to become more adaptive and inclusive.
The regional fisheries management organizations that regulate these stocks should take heed of the conclusions in the SOFIA report. HCRs urgently need to be in place for these valuable tuna fisheries as part of fully specified harvest strategies.
Harvest strategies are the pathway to transitioning to science-based and precautionary frameworks that consider future impacts to the stocks and create pre-agreed rules to adjust fishing based on changes in the environment. Harvest strategies will improve transparency, inclusivity, stability, and sustainability in the management of these ecologically and commercially valuable tuna species.