NOAA 2000-159
Contact: Gordon Helm

Additional Firm Steps Taken Against IUU Fishing

The United States successfully negotiated a two-phased plan to rebuild the severely depleted populations of Atlantic blue marlin and white marlin at the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas held Nov. 13-20 in Marrakech, Morocco. This important program could not have been achieved without the unified effort of the U.S. delegation in gaining support from all ICCAT parties.

"The adoption of a plan to recover blue and white marlins was the top priority for the United States at this year's commission meeting," said U.S. Government Commissioner to ICCAT and NOAA Deputy Assistant Secretary of International Affairs Rolland Schmitten, who led the delegation. "This plan represents a major victory for marlins given the dire results of the recent ICCAT stock assessments for these species. I am proud of what the United States achieved for blue and white marlins."

The United States was also represented by U.S. Recreational Commissioner J. Michael Nussman, and U.S. Commercial Commissioner Glenn R. Delaney. The delegation included staff from the Department of State, the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Marine Fisheries Service, Congressional staff, and members of various stakeholder groups. The seven day meeting covered numerous topics, although marlin conservation and compliance issues were dominant for the United States.

"I think I speak for the entire U.S. recreational industry when I say how pleased I am that ICCAT has moved forward on marlin conservation in this aggressive way," said Recreational Commissioner Nussman. "The steps taken by ICCAT this year are vitally important for these species."

"I, too, am pleased with the actions ICCAT has taken with regard to marlins, and I am once again proud of the hard work and sacrifices of U.S. commercial fishermen in supporting the highest priority issue for the United States this year at ICCAT," Commercial Commissioner Delaney added.

The commission also continued its cutting edge efforts to control illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing activities. ICCAT members agreed to ban the import of bigeye tuna from non-members Belize, Honduras, Cambodia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and ICCAT member Equatorial Guinea. In recognition that Honduras is making efforts to address ICCAT's concerns, the commission agreed to delay implementation of the bigeye tuna trade restrictions until January 2002, to allow ICCAT time at its 2001 meeting to review this decision in light of new information. The commission also maintained previously agreed trade restrictions against Belize and Honduras relative to bluefin tuna and swordfish and Equatorial Guinea relative to bluefin tuna.

In another significant action, the commission agreed to develop statistical document programs for swordfish and bigeye tuna. As has been the case with the bluefin tuna statistical document program, the new programs will monitor harvest and trade in these species and assist in the collection of data. Data collected by the programs will improve scientific stock assessments and enhance the ability of ICCAT to develop effective conservation measures. A meeting of technical experts will be convened prior to the November 2001 ICCAT meeting to resolve issues relating to the implementation of the programs. The target for full implementation of the programs is Jan. 1, 2002.

Other important actions taken by ICCAT at its recent meeting included establishing first ever catch limits in the overfished bigeye tuna and northern albacore tuna fisheries. Although the overall catch levels established for these fisheries are higher than the United States had hoped would be set, the United States ultimately supported the measures as needed first steps toward stock rebuilding.

The United States continued its efforts to improve ICCAT's member compliance regime. Compliance discussions were some of the most difficult and time consuming of the 2000 Commission meeting, and the United States was not satisfied with the results of many of these discussions. As a result, the United States, together with Canada, could not accept the summary table of future harvesting obligations developed at the ICCAT meeting. To help address some of these concerns, the commission adopted a U.S. proposal to establish a working group that will meet each year prior to the commission meeting to develop a summary compliance table. This working group should facilitate the work of ICCAT relative to compliance. In addition, a recommendation was adopted to simplify rules regarding the application of quota over- and under-harvests. The commission also agreed to hold an inter-sessional meeting in May 2001 to begin development of integrated monitoring measures that will facilitate fishery monitoring and compliance by ICCAT members.

ICCAT is a 28 member multilateral organization charged with the conservation and management of tuna and tuna-like fishes, including swordfish and billfish, throughout the Atlantic Ocean. ICCAT member countries are required to implement recommendations adopted by the Commission in their domestic fisheries.

Fact Sheet – 2000 ICCAT Meeting

Marlin rebuilding -

Phase one of the Atlantic marlin rebuilding plan requires that countries capturing marlins commercially reduce white marlin landings by 67 percent and blue marlin landings by 50 percent from 1999 levels. To accomplish these reductions, the plan requires the release of all live marlins taken as bycatch in commercial fisheries, but allows landing of fish unavoidably killed provided that they are not sold. The United States agreed to limit annual landings by recreational fishermen and to maintain regulations that prohibit retention of marlins on U.S. longline vessels. Phase one of the plan also encourages countries to set minimum sizes for marlins taken in recreational fisheries that are consistent with the requirements for conservation, but they may take into account the specific circumstances of local fisheries.

In Phase two of the program, ICCAT will reassess the status of the billfish stocks and develop specific timetables to rebuild the stocks to levels that will support maximum sustainable yield. At such time, additional landings restrictions or alternative management measures such as fishing gear modifications or time and area closures may be applied.

Atlantic bluefin tuna -

ICCAT's science body advised that the total allowable catch for the western stock of bluefin tuna "should not be changed significantly from the current level...". Given this advice and noting the 20 year rebuilding program agreed by ICCAT in 1998 was only in its second year, ICCAT members that fish for western bluefin tuna (the United States, Canada, and Japan) preferred a cautious approach to the management of this species and did not seek a change in the current 2,500 mt quota. U.S. Commissioner Schmitten did note, however, that gains in stock biomass could lead to quota increases in the future.

In stark contrast and despite scientific advice that the total catch for the eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery must be reduced to 25,000 mt in order to begin rebuilding, the commission adopted an overall catch level of 29,500 mt for 2001. This catch level represents the status quo and does not take into account other factors that may lead to actual harvest levels that exceed this target. The United States expressed extreme disappointment with this recommendation as it will allow continued overfishing of the eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna stock and could threaten recovery measures in the western Atlantic. Because of concerns that harvests of the eastern stock will negatively affect the western stock, the United States successfully introduced a measure requiring an intersessional scientific meeting to examine stock boundary issues and possible new spawning areas in the central Atlantic Ocean.

Swordfish -

The United States was concerned about the overall 2001 total allowable catch for South Atlantic swordfish. While this stock is significantly healthier than eastern bluefin tuna, the target total allowable catch of 14,620 mt could allow overfishing to occur. Moreover, unlike past years, no member specific quotas were agreed for this fishery.

Management and compliance issues -

Several management measures, such as quotas, were only established for a single year due in part to the unfinished work of ICCAT's Working Group on Allocation Criteria. The commission decided that this working group, created to address concerns of developing countries that quota allocation practices were unfair, would meet for a third time in Brussels, Belgium, from May 21-23, 2001, in an effort to finalize criteria that should be taken into account when making quota allocations.

Additionally, during compliance discussions, Japan reported that it had seriously exceeded its North Atlantic swordfish quota. Swordfish are a non-target species taken in Japan's bigeye tuna fishery. Although Japan had taken some actions to address this compliance problem, Japan sought help from ICCAT to rectify the situation fully. Because of concerns for the integrity of the 10 year swordfish rebuilding program adopted by ICCAT in 1999 and given the recent underharvest by the United States of its North Atlantic swordfish quota, the United States, with the full support of the U.S. longline industry, agreed to assist Japan in addressing its swordfish overharvest. Specifically, a measure was adopted that, among other things, will allow Japan access to 400 mt of unused U.S. quota for 2001 only. The goodwill generated by the sacrifice made by the U.S. longline industry assisted the United States in advancing its agenda on other important issues.