Meeting in Mauritius in May, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) members – including several ACP countries and the EU – agreed to the principle of introducing fishing limits based on the precautionary approach. The management scheme required to put this in practice will be negotiated next year. Measures were also agreed to protect oceanic white tip sharks from high seas fisheries as well as cetaceans and whale sharks from being accidentally caught in purse seine fisheries, although a proposed ban on shark finning was not adopted.
Greenpeace considers that IOTC members have failed to halt the decline of the albacore tuna – the region’s most vulnerable tuna species – as it did not adopt a proposal to cut catches by 30%. Another key issue raised by the NGO is that the region currently lacks the data needed to properly manage its fishing capacity and effort.
In a paper prepared for the IOTC meeting, Greenpeace insisted that to enable the management of fishing capacity, and to determine whether and where excess capacity exists, all fishing vessels active in the IOTC fisheries must be identified, together with their characteristics. For example, increasing numbers of fish aggregating devices (FADs), which act as a capacity multiplier, may have kept fishing efforts high even where the number of purse seiners has decreased. Measuring capacity, therefore, requires much more than just checking the number of vessels.
As a consequence, several Indian Ocean coastal countries, including ACP countries, planning for an expansion of their tuna fleets, are doing so without knowing how much fishing capacity is currently deployed in the region. Moreover, “countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Oman refuse to apply management measures to their smaller scale fleets. This is detrimental to the sustainability of those fleets and to the people who depend on them,” commented a Greenpeace spokesperson. “Such a situation jeopardises the long-term sustainability and profitability of fisheries in the IOTC area and therefore the aspirations of developing coastal states to better benefit from the exploitation of tuna resources,” she concluded.
The rights and obligations of developing countries – such as IOTC ACP members – to develop their own high seas (tuna) fisheries are recognised under international law. The FAO International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity further highlights that developing states must be assisted to ensure that their rights are respected and that they are in a position to fulfil their obligations. This includes flag states documenting and sharing data on their vessels’ operations and implies strong coordination among interested states to ensure sustainability. However, several flag states currently operating in the Indian Ocean tuna fisheries do not properly document or share data on their fleets’ activities and coordination to ensure sustainability is not followed. This hampers the capacity of other IOTC developing countries’ members to assert their rights to sustainably develop their own tuna fisheries, as well as holding back the sustainable development of these countries’ small-scale fleets. Because they are not being documented, these fleets’ activities are largely unreported, unregulated and inappropriately supported. A constructive dialogue should be pursued with these flag states by Indian Ocean ACP members and by the EU, at a bilateral level, through cooperation and development and trade relations and negotiations.