November 3, 2021
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will hold its 27th Regular Meeting of the Commission on 15-23 November, the first Commission meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year’s annual meeting was canceled, and all vital ICCAT business was conducted entirely over email, which made substantive decision-making nearly impossible and pushed critical negotiations to this year’s meeting. Now there is an opportunity to move forward on these important decisions, especially with regard to the development of harvest strategies (called “management procedures” by ICCAT scientists and managers). This year’s meeting can advance ICCAT’s commitment to transition to the management procedure approach by taking the following steps:
Adopt a fully specified management procedure (MP) for North Atlantic albacore. This would be a momentous step for ICCAT, as it will be the Commission’s first fully specified management procedure and only the 2nd MP for any tuna globally. In 2017, ICCAT adopted a harvest control rule (HCR) for Northern albacore, and it was successfully applied again last year to increase the catch limit for 2021 without controversy, even with the cancellation of the 2020 meeting. A transition from the HCR to a full MP will require specification of the data collection and analysis methods used to trigger the HCR, as well as an exceptional circumstances protocol. This will ensure consistent and predictable application of the harvest strategy, as well as provide guidance on how to proceed if MP implementation is not going as anticipated.
Continue advancing the Eastern and Western Atlantic bluefin tuna management strategy evaluation (MSE) by operationalizing management objectives and dedicating sufficient capacity to ensure on-schedule adoption of a full management procedure in 2022. The MSE has been underway since 2014 and is nearing completion, but multiple meetings are needed between now and MP adoption in 2022 to ensure managers and stakeholders have ample opportunity to provide feedback on the MSE. This effort starts with a dedicated pre-meeting on the bluefin MSE on the 12 November. One of the items on that agenda is operationalizing management objectives, which will allow for further refinement of the MSE and a narrowed down list of candidate MPs. Furthermore, this year’s highly uncertain stock assessment for the western population underscores the need to move toward an MSE-based management procedure for the species. As such, this assessment does not provide an adequate basis for making significant changes to the catch limit, especially since the MP will be used to set catch limits for both the western and eastern stocks starting from 2023.
Include bridging language in the new tropical tuna measure to ensure commitment to MP development, starting with Western skipjack tuna. The last couple of years have yielded significant progress on the tropical tuna MSEs, and the workplan calls for MP adoption for Western skipjack in 2023 and other tropical tunas in 2024. Including bridging language in a new proposal signifies that the MSE will be an integral and necessary component of the tropical tuna work in the coming years.
After many years of impressive work by managers and scientists alike to progress these MSEs, ICCAT has reached a pivotal point at this year’s commission meeting where precedent-setting management procedures can be adopted or set up for future adoption. This transition to management procedures will help to modernize ICCAT management, ensuring long-term sustainability, stability, and profitability of its fisheries.