Indian Ocean Tuna Commission takes first steps towards conservation

Soon after BirdLife International delivered a report on the impact of illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries (IUU) on seabird populations, 12 vessels engaged in this activity have now been identified and blacklisted by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC).  The IOTC was one of the three regional fisheries organizations cited by the BirdLife report as doing little or nothing to prevent the wholesale killing of albatrosses, turtles and sharks in tuna fisheries.

The IOTC estimates that IUU fishing takes up more than 40,000 tones of fish annually in the Indian Ocean and moreover contributes to a growing bycatch problem. The BirdLife International report launched at the  26th Session of the FAO’s Committee on Fisheries in March this year identified the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations that are not preventing the slaughter of the world’s albatrosses in longline fisheries, including the IOTC.

The IOTC has never had catch quotas, or measures to either collect data on, or reduce, bycatch. However, at the recent ninth annual meeting of the  IOTC in June in Seychelles, steps have been taken for better management including quotas on catches of bigeye tuna. The ninth session also adopted three separate resolutions on conservation of sharks, sea turtles and seabirds.

Reading the resolutions on sharks and turtles one can see that the organization is now taking serious steps to reduce the killing of these animals by tuna fishing operations. The shark resolution prohibits fishing vessels from retaining on board, transhipping or landing any fins harvested. It also asks the nations that are party to the IOTC to undertake several other conservation-related activities. For turtles, the resolution aims to reduce the impact of fishing operations on these species by certain measures such as development of gear to reduce bycatch of turtles, to avoid encircling turtles with  nets and to promptly release any turtles caught

However, the IOTC is still not serious enough about reducing seabird mortality in the Southern Indian Ocean tuna fishery says international conservationists. The resolution on seabirds, they say, does not go far enough. The Southern Indian Ocean is one of the most special places for the albatrosses of the world. There are 21 species in all and 19 of them are threatened with extinction. The IOTC has a very important role to play in their protection because their greatest danger is being caught and killed in longline fisheries, says Dr. Cleo Small of the RSPB.

More action is necessary by the IOTC otherwise 19 species of fantastic birds will vanish from the planet forever because of tuna fishing. Do tuna fishing operators want to be held accountable for a modern wave of mass extinctions of animals?

By Nirmal Jivan Shah, published on the People Newspaper, Seychelles, on 7 July  2005


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