December 15, 2021
2021 marked a significant year for the proliferation of harvest strategies across tuna regional fishery management organizations (tRFMOs). First introduced to tRFMOs with the adoption of a harvest strategy for southern bluefin tuna a decade ago, this approach is now under development or in place at every single tRFMO, including in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Harvest strategies are now being called upon across the globe to transition to science-based, precautionary frameworks to manage a breadth of species. The result is greater transparency, inclusivity, stability, and sustainability in management of these ecologically important and commercially valuable fisheries.
In a momentous step, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) adopted its first comprehensive harvest strategy (also known as a management procedure) for north Atlantic albacore tuna last month, which will help lock in sustainable management and predictable market supply of this stock moving forward. While ICCAT had already adopted a harvest control rule (HCR) in 2017, additional specifications were needed to convert the albacore HCR into a full harvest strategy including details on the data collection and analysis methods used to trigger the HCR, and an exceptional circumstances protocol. In November, ICCAT also set the stage for adoption of a harvest strategy for Atlantic bluefin tuna next year. The new western Atlantic bluefin measure established management for 2022 only, leaving 2023 management to be set through a harvest strategy. And, three dialogue meetings among scientists, managers, and other stakeholders are also slotted for next year, giving ICCAT members ample opportunity to provide input into bluefin harvest strategies and better understand the options before selecting a final harvest strategy at next November’s meeting.
The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), too, has further cemented its dedication to the development of harvest strategies for its highly valuable fishery for skipjack, bigeye, yellowfin and South Pacific albacore tunas, through the scheduling of their first scientist-manager dialogue group meeting, which was first recommended by the Scientific Committee in 2017. Slotted for August 2022, this group will provide a forum for iterative exchange between managers and scientists to develop a transparent, collective vision for the stocks and fisheries. While WCPFC failed to adopt target reference points for bigeye and yellowfin tunas, there has never been a louder call from industry to advance harvest strategies in the region, bolstered by the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) June 2023 deadline to adopt harvest strategies or risk losing their ecolabel certification. Also at its annual meeting this month, WCPFC restated its commitment to adopt harvest strategies for skipjack and south Pacific albacore in 2022, which would allow MSC fisheries to retain their certifications for those stocks. While the science will likely be ready, WCPFC’s managers have a great deal of work to carry out next year to enable adoption. The long overdue dialogue meeting will be critical to that effort.
Just east of the WCPFC, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) adopted a new tropical tuna conservation and management measure at its October meeting, which now includes a directive to establish harvest strategies, starting with bigeye tuna. IATTC is using management strategy evaluation (MSE), a computer simulation tool that projects a fishery years into the future under a range of scenarios, to develop a harvest strategy for the stock by 2024, as is noted in the newly adopted conservation measure.
In the Indian Ocean, the development of harvest strategies is far along for bigeye and yellowfin. The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) should be heralded for the smooth and efficient development of the scientific elements needed to develop a harvest strategy, with bigeye tuna likely ready for adoption next year following substantial progress building the bigeye MSE framework in 2021. MSE processes are also underway for albacore and swordfish. Lessons from skipjack, however, where the catch limit has been exceeded in every year since HCR adoption in 2016, underscore the importance of agreeing to a quota allocation scheme to ensure science based TACs set through harvest strategies are not exceeded.
A mere decade since the adoption of the first tRFMO harvest strategy at the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT), this approach has become the gold standard for management, as it ensures the future sustainability and stability of tuna fisheries, benefiting fish, fishermen, and consumers for years to come. As of 2021, all tRFMOs have concrete commitments to develop and adopt harvest strategies within a specified timeframe. Within the next few years, the tRFMOs are poised to expand from just two full harvest strategies in place to twenty adopted, and www.harveststrategies.org will be here to report on progress and provide educational resources along the way.