December 23, 2022
2022 has been a landmark year for international tuna fisheries conservation. We saw adoption of three new harvest strategies, management objectives adopted for one, new standards for sustainable international fisheries, and ultimately a strong platform and mandate for harvest strategies to continue this momentum into 2023.
Most notably, after a decade of work and collaboration from governments, scientists, industry, and environmental organizations, a harvest strategy was finally adopted for Atlantic bluefin tuna. As one that incorporates two separate but overlapping stocks in the east and western Atlantic, it was also perhaps the most scientifically rigorous as well as the most politically consequential harvest strategy to date. And importantly, one that builds off the legacy of bluefin tuna in the Southern Ocean and helps cement harvest strategies as a necessary and viable tool for a healthy ocean.
It was also a big year for tropical tunas. The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) adopted a harvest strategy for bigeye tuna in May. And just this month, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) adopted a harvest strategy for the largest tuna fishery in the world, skipjack tuna in the western and central Pacific. This progress was in part due to WCPFC’s first Science-Management Dialogue meeting in August 2022, and hopefully the benefits of that group will lead to it becoming a permanent working group next year. Management objectives were agreed upon for skipjack tuna in the western Atlantic, which is now poised for adoption next year upon completion of a management strategy evaluation (MSE) by the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). To date, harvest strategies have been concentrated in more temperate parts of the world, but now tropical species and stakeholders are finally seeing real progress.
Reference points were also adopted for North Pacific albacore, with complementary measures adopted at both WCPFC and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), teeing up adoption of a fully specified harvest strategy by both bodies next year.
As we look to year 2023, harvest strategies have momentum like never before. We are seizing the moment to work towards adopting an additional eight harvest strategies for international fisheries by year’s end. These will encompass tuna, swordfish, and forage fish, located from the poles to the tropics, in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian oceans, and across six different RFMOs. 2022 had some of the greatest accomplishments for harvest strategies to date, but 2023 could surpass even that as years of legwork to conduct MSEs and develop harvest strategies come to completion.
But as we work towards this goal, there are other related policy measures that provide both opportunities and potential challenges. For example, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) launched version 3.0 of its fisheries standards in October. The new policy requires international fisheries to adopt and fully implement a harvest strategy, which has the potential to accelerate harvest strategies. However, how much of an impact this will have may depend on a controversial decision to allow fisheries to delay meting these requirements for up to 10 years.
But there’s also a new tool available that can educate stakeholders of all types on the benefits of harvest strategies and how to use them. Some of you reading this may have been following us since our website was made public in 2021. But we have grown and made our official launch last month, complete with a new partnership with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In the last few months, we have launched a version in Spanish and French, two new educational videos, have recently deployed a new and improved version of the Slick decision analysis and visualization app, in addition to other educational materials on harvest strategies! We have published 22 blogs this year and now have materials in 13 different languages. Follow us next year for more, including our twitter and linkedin pages. We will bring you the most important updates on our mission to advocate, educate, and support harvest strategy development and adoption for fisheries around the world.