January 17, 2023
Title: For 2023 – is there a more impressive word than ‘monumental’?
Our last blog was titled, “2022 was a monumental year for harvest strategies, 2023 could be even better”. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it left you wondering how such an amazing year for fisheries could be bested.
So, let’s dive deeper. After 2022 brought a long-awaited harvest strategy for Atlantic bluefin tuna, and many other successes, here’s a summary of what we’re hoping to see accomplished in the coming year!
The Atlantic – Swordfish, Tropical Tunas, & Bluefin
Let’s start where we left off. In November, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) adopted perhaps the most scientifically and politically important management procedure (MP) to date – Atlantic bluefin tuna. Some work remains, however; in 2023, ICCAT will finalize an exceptional circumstances protocol for bluefin that will guide management in the case of unforeseen events.
Other breakthroughs at last year’s ICCAT meeting will spark more harvest strategies work this year. With leadership from Brazil, Uruguay, and South Africa, ICCAT adopted management objectives for an eventual MP for western Atlantic skipjack tuna. One of our top priorities will be to have that MP adopted for the fishery this year. If successful, this would be the first harvest strategy adopted in the Atlantic for a tropical tuna fishery. And it doesn’t stop there, as establishing a workplan to develop harvest strategies for the other tropical Atlantic tunas is also on the to-do list. A single MSE is being developed for bigeye tuna, yellowfin, and eastern skipjack since they are caught together in the same fisheries.
Last but certainly not least, North Atlantic swordfish is our highest priority for ICCAT in 2023. The MSE is already significantly advanced, with preliminary results available in an online interactive application hosted by www.HarvestStrategies.org. With three management meetings and four science meetings scheduled for the lead up to the November annual meeting, ICCAT is well-placed to adopt a precautionary MP for this fishery this year as well.
The Indian Ocean – Skipjack & Bigeye Tuna
Moving towards the Indian Ocean, 2023 could see major breakthroughs for tropical tunas here as well. A harvest control rule (HCR) was adopted for skipjack tuna by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) in 2016, but 2023 will be the year IOTC could scale this to a full MP.
Our eyes also are on bigeye tuna. After IOTC adopted a harvest strategy in 2022 (!), it will be important to make sure recommendations from the MP are followed to set catch limits starting from 2024.
There may also be opportunities for progress in the Indian Ocean for yellowfin tuna, albacore, and swordfish. IOTC will need to revise its MSE roadmap to decide which stock(s) to prioritize for MP adoption in 2024.
The Pacific – Albacore, Skipjack Tuna, and Bigeye Tuna
Onto the Pacific, the largest ocean and most complex arena with two RFMOs managing tuna fisheries simultaneously on their respective sides of the basin. It would not be a breakthrough year for international fisheries without major progress here!
How about the largest tuna fishery in the world? In 2022, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) adopted a harvest strategy for skipjack tuna. While a major achievement, the non-binding nature of this particular harvest strategy means there is more work to be done. Renegotiation of the tropical tuna measure in 2023 is a great opportunity to try to expand the decision-making power of this harvest strategy and tie it more directly to annual catch and effort limits.
And, perhaps the most important goal for the long-term, we have been strong advocates for permanent establishment of a science-management dialogue group to help provide a more structured environment for harvest strategy development and implementation within WCPFC. This would be a great accomplishment for all WCPFC stocks, including south Pacific albacore, one of our priorities for 2023. Did the harvest strategy for skipjack pave the way for harvest strategy adoption for South Pacific albacore as well? MSE advances this year for this stock will set up harvest strategy adoption this year or next.
Albacore is a priority in the North Pacific as well, where last year’s agreements on management objectives and reference points also commit to adopt a precautionary management procedure this year. As a stock that’s distributed basin-wide, complementary management between both WCPFC and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) will be an important part of this effort.
Coming full circle in the eastern Pacific, it will be important to advance the management strategy evaluation for bigeye tuna with IATTC. Like WCPFC, this is an example of another fishery and RFMO that could benefit from a permanent science-management dialogue group to help elevate and direct the MSE and MP process.
Forage Fish – Atlantic Mackerel & Pacific Saury
As commercially important species and also critical bite-sized prey for marine biodiversity of all types (including many tuna and billfish species mentioned above), forage fish are in a category of their own and will remain one of our top global priorities for 2023.
The North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) is poised to adopt a full harvest strategy this year for Atlantic mackerel, an ecologically and commercially important species that has been the subject of management disputes dubbed the “Mackerel Wars”. A harvest strategy – which may also include stipulations for allocation – will be a monumental step for the benefit of the species and smooth over political controversies. MSE processes for herring stocks and blue whiting will also hopefully advance, and there are opportunities with western horse mackerel and several other species.
In the Pacific, the North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC) is doing preliminary MSE testing for Pacific saury, with the hope of adopting an interim HCR at its annual meeting in March and adoption of a full MP in 2024. This work will be particularly important for Japan where improvements to the Pacific saury fishery are much needed.
As HarvestStrategies.org continues our important hands-on work with RFMOs, we will also continue exploring some of the most pressing questions for harvest strategies and sustainable fisheries. Examples include harvest strategies and MSE as tools for implementing ecosystem-based fisheries management and linkages between climate change and harvest strategies, with harvest strategies an important climate adaptation tool for climate-resilient fisheries and a sustainable blue economy. We also aspire to investigate the wider economic benefits of harvest strategies, economic incentives for implementing harvest strategies, and financial mechanisms that can help facilitate their adoption.
And of course, we will also continue to develop HarvestStrategies.org as THE go-to place for all things harvest strategies, management procedures, and MSE. With our new partnership with FAO, expect a wave of blogs, news articles, animations, and other communications materials throughout the year.