Industry and NGOs Call for Tuna Conservation Measures

File image courtesy Greenpeace / Alex Hofford

Published Jun 30, 2016 9:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

This week, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission is meeting near San Diego to consider new measures to regulate the Eastern Pacific's fishery. At this year's gathering, the Commission faces an unusual request: the delegation from Ecuador's tuna industry – the largest in the region – has called for a “global ban” on tuna fishing.

The delegation, comprised of the leaders of Ecuador’s chamber of fishing and several fishing industry executives, says that existing Eastern Pacific catch targets have been met, and it is time for Asian tuna fisheries to take up similar measures. 

The Commission does not have members in the Western Pacific, and if adopted, the Ecuadorian petition would be largely symbolic. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, a separate body, coordinates fisheries in the South Pacific islands and in Asia. 

Others are also calling for widespread protections for tuna species. The overwhelming majority of Mexico’s tuna firms have declared a voluntary ban on Pacific bluefin take until the end of the decade. NGOs have weighed in as well: on June 20, over a dozen environmental organizations petitioned the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to list the Pacific bluefin as a federally-protected endangered species. 

Researchers estimate that present stocks of Pacific bluefin tuna are at roughly three percent of their preindustrial levels, and recent annual catch levels are estimated at three times the threshold for overfishing. The species is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, which says that the growing popularity of sashimi has increased prices for high-grade landed fish and put new pressure on the fishery. 

An endangered species listing in the U.S. would not be a panacaea; the great majority of the take is in the Western Pacific, far from American shores, and the U.S. fleet is relatively small. However, it would have an indirect effect by banning import and possession of the species within the United States, which consumes about three percent of the annual catch.

NMFS will consider the petition, but in the meanwhile, it has drafted a long-term plan for rebuilding Pacific bluefin stocks, to be presented to the IATTC this week.