Does the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission have a poor environmental record?

The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), headquartered in Seychelles, has been reported as having one of the poorest environmental performances of all the 19 Regional Fisheries Management Organizations of the world. This was highlighted in a BirdLife International report launched at the  26th Session of the FAO’s Committee on Fisheries being held this week in  Italy. The BirdLife review identifies the regional fisheries organizations that are not preventing the slaughter of the world’s albatrosses in longline fisheries.

The conclusions of the report were based on criteria drawn from principles established in the United Nations Law of the Sea and other agreements that set standards for the regional fisheries organizations to conserve fish and other species. These organizations are required to manage target species as well as the overall ecosystem, including human fishing communities. The approach aims not only to protect marine wildlife and the environment but also to maintain and even increase long-term fisheries’ production.

Dead seabirds from one fishing trip by a single longliner (c) Nature SeychellesBirdLife says that the IOTC and two other regional fisheries organizations are doing little or nothing to reduce the bycatch of seabirds, sharks and turtles in their fisheries, while at the same time many of their fish stocks have declined. It states that the IOTC has no catch quotas, and no measures to either collect data on, or reduce, bycatch The IOTC has as members Australia, China, Comoros, Eritrea, the EU, France, India, Iran, Japan, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Oman, Pakistan, The Philippines, Seychelles, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, UK, Vanuatu.

Populations of albatrosses, dolphins, sharks and turtles are declining rapidly, partly because regional fisheries organizations are ignoring international laws requiring action to safeguard marine wildlife and tackle pirate fishing, the report states. Of the 21 albatross species, 19 are under global threat of extinction, largely because they are victims of fisheries’ bycatch. Seabirds, particularly albatrosses, are becoming increasingly threatened at a faster rate globally than all other species-groups of birds. Measures to reduce seabird bycatch are available and many  are inexpensive and easy to operate, BirdLife says.

I had written earlier in this column  that albatrosses populations are found outside Seychelles territory, so their bycatch is not a direct problem for us. However, as a conservation champion we have to be concerned about the impact of longlining fleets. As a member of a regional fisheries organization we also have to be aware of international agreements that require that organization to take conservation measures. Furthermore, we have to be certain that pirate fishing vessels are not using our waters.

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