September 16, 2022
John Bohorquez, Ph.D.
Senior Program Associate, International Fisheries
A new animation was just released about one of the bright spots in marine conservation, and part of the blueprint for a sustainable future.
In 2011, an international team of fisheries scientists published the first standardized, global assessment of tunas and billfishes, revealing the worrisome futures these animals faced from fishing around the world. Leading the trend, of the 61 species they analyzed, the Southern bluefin tuna was singled out as the most endangered: “Already essentially crashed”…and “so reduced that the most expeditious way to rebuild abundances and avoid collapse with great certainty is to shut down the fishery.” These are not words one would associate with a fish that, a decade later, would become a standard bearer for sustainable large-scale fishing and inspire transformation of fisheries management in every ocean on the planet.
That’s because, in the very same year, with many advocates calling to end fishing entirely, the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) awakened to the fact that traditional fisheries management was not working and decided to try something new. Instead of tediously renegotiating how many fish could be caught every year, they decided to take a long-term perspective where quotas were pre-agreed based on reference points of the fish population, fishing impacts, and other natural factors, all using the best available science. This moment was the birth of harvest strategies and management procedures (MP) for international fisheries as we know them today.
The Bali Procedure of 2011 – as the landmark MP agreement was known – intended to quadruple the abundance of Southern bluefin tuna, which at the time was only 5% of “unfished biomass,” or the abundance before commercial fishing began. The CCSBT had 25 years to achieve the goal.
Thanks to the MP, they needed less than 10.
By 2020, the stock of Southern bluefin tuna had increased from 5% to 20% of unfished biomass, achieving the first target. The fishing industry was able to benefit in real time, with quotas nearly doubling over the same period. The balance between conservation and sustainable fishing was struck as the Bali Procedure had intended and the population was able to rebound even faster than predicted. In fact, the Southern bluefin tuna management procedure was so successful that the CCSBT increased the target to 30% of unfished biomass when they had to revise the MP in 2019.
This is an incredible story not only because of where Southern bluefin tuna stood 10 years ago as one of the most imperiled fisheries in the world, but also because of the unique challenges surrounding the fishery. For perspective, the bluefin tunas, as the largest and most valuable tunas, and among the most economically and culturally significant forms of life in the ocean, have historically been one of the most politically contentious. Yet government, industry, and science were able to come together and pioneer a new management approach with great success. In a rare example of true Ocean Optimism, if progress can be achieved here, certainly it can be followed elsewhere. And that is exactly what is happening in dozens of other fisheries around the world that are looking to emulate the success of the Southern bluefin tuna through harvest strategies and management procedures.
Produced by The Ocean Foundation, with funding from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), this new animation tells the remarkable story of the Southern Bluefin Tuna.