August 2, 2023
Harvest strategies are proving time and again their potential for recovering and stabilizing tuna fisheries across the world as a highly powerful tool for sustainable management, especially when directed by a thorough Management Strategy Evaluation (MSE). Every tuna-Regional Fishery Management Organization (tRFMO) has implemented them for at least one tuna stock. That is, except for the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) that is responsible for tuna and tuna-like species in the eastern Pacific.
IATTC being the sole outlier has not been for lack of need or effort by the Commission, which has worked diligently to build capacity for harvest strategies and MSE throughout its ranks. CPCs like the European Union and others have further contributed valuable resources for their development. These collective efforts could finally bear fruit at the annual Commission meeting this year. Several opportunities to advance harvest strategies in the region will be on the table when member states convene in Victoria, Canada, from August 7th to 11th.
The most anticipated opportunity is the chance for IATTC to follow up on July’s exciting news from Fukuoka, Japan. At that meeting, the Northern Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) agreed to terms for a harvest strategy for North Pacific albacore, which include a formulaic harvest control rule. As this is a jointly managed stock across WCPFC and IATTC, adoption of this harvest strategy by IATTC – followed by adoption by WCPFC in December – will be needed for it to take full effect. So, in achieving their own milestone by adopting their first harvest strategy, IATTC can also make global history by working with WCPFC to implement the first ever harvest strategy to be executed by multiple RFMOs working together. It would also be the second albacore stock to have a harvest strategy, following North Atlantic albacore that, according to recent stock assessments, has already seen impressive growth in its abundance and total allowable catch since its harvest strategy was adopted in 2017.
The United States, Japan, and Canada have submitted a proposal to adopt a joint harvest strategy for North Pacific albacore, as recommended by IATTC’s Scientific Advisory Committee during their meeting in May. We, alongside several other governments and environmental organizations such as WWF and The Pew Charitable Trusts, urge that this guidance be heeded at the Commission next week. It joins calls to action by key market stakeholders as well, such as Bumblebee Tuna which has historically advocated for a harvest strategy for the stock.
Eastern Pacific bigeye tuna will also be a point of conversation at the IATTC Commission. This stock stands to be IATTC’s first MSE-tested harvest strategy for a tropical tuna if the MSE and harvest strategy development work stays on track for adoption next year. For this to happen, the management objectives that define a vision for the long-term status of the stock must be further specified to help direct the MSE work. Bigeye is overfished, with catches declining in recent years. Adopting a harvest strategy will ultimately be crucial not just to the health of the stock, but also clearing the runway for harvest strategies of other tropical tunas to follow suit.
Yet financial resources for developing harvest strategies at IATTC are set to expire at the end of 2023, leaving the development of a harvest strategy for bigeye at risk of being further delayed. For this work to continue, member countries must agree to long-term funding to support MSE, including investing in full-time staff for IATTC to complete the work. And as a general best-practice for making MSE development more efficient, IATTC should also join other RFMOs in the establishment of a science management dialogue group (SMD). A SMD can help enhance stakeholder engagement throughout the harvest strategy development process while also avoiding future delays in development and implementation. It too will require dedicated funding to achieve its goals.
Additional funding and the formation of a SMD would be essential to help bigeye cross the finish line and allow IATTC to focus on harvest strategies for additional stocks. In the wake of the Northern Committee’s agreement for albacore in July, IATTC enters this year’s Commission meeting with rare momentum that could be a game changer for management of tunas and tuna-like species in the eastern Pacific. This is an opportunity not to be missed.