NOAA 2002-148
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U.S. Disappointed With ICCAT Quotas For Swordfish, Bluefin Tuna

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has adopted measures to address the problem of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing for tunas and swordfish in the Atlantic Ocean. ICCAT also extended Phase I of its rebuilding plan for white marlin and blue marlin through 2005.

However, the international Atlantic fishery management commission failed to reduce quotas for overfished eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna or to protect juvenile swordfish by limiting quota increases, two key issues pressed by the United States delegation.

These are among the many proposals adopted by ICCAT on Monday, Nov. 4, at the conclusion of its annual meeting held in Bilbao, Spain. ICCAT is an international fishery management organization with 34 members.

“On the whole, we were disappointed by the outcome of this ICCAT meeting,” said Dr. William T. Hogarth, chief U.S. ICCAT Commissioner and director of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries). “The total allowable catch for eastern bluefin tuna is way too high, and the total swordfish allowances for the north and south Atlantic Ocean will put significant pressure on the small swordfish that are a high proportion of the stock.”

Hogarth added that there are some good items in the ICCAT package. “There is increased protection for small bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean. Members also committed to work on integrating bluefin tuna management in the eastern and western Atlantic Ocean and consider the mixing status between east and west bluefin tuna populations. This action will lead to a re-examination of the arbitrarily set dividing line that separates the two fishery management areas. In addition, ICCAT has adopted far- reaching measures to control IUU fishing and address chartering of foreign fishing vessels by developing coastal countries. ICCAT also ensured that virtually all of the countries fishing in the Atlantic are now under its management structure by applying the new allocation criteria. Those agreements are going to make future management more effective.”

“I am convinced that we negotiated the best package possible,” said Glenn R. Delaney, U.S. ICCAT commissioner for the commercial fishing industry. “It is far from perfect; even disappointing in some respects. But many aspects of the package bode well for the long-term management of the stocks and for U.S. fisheries.”

ICCAT also extended Phase 1 of its rebuilding plan for white marlin and blue marlin through 2005. This action maintains the requirement to release all live marlins that are caught incidentally by purse seine and longline vessels.

“Extending the marlin rebuilding plan was extremely important,” said Robert G. Hayes, U.S. ICCAT commissioner for the recreational fishing industry. “These are stocks that need protection, and we are relying on the effectiveness of ICCAT’s conservation measures to rebuild these severely overfished stocks. The new agreements to address IUU fishing problems will also reduce fishing pressure on marlins.”

ICCAT provides management recommendations to countries for the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean. For western bluefin tuna, ICCAT increased the total allowable catch (TAC) from 2500 metric tons to 2700 metric tons, and provided a special allowance for U.S. and Canadian bycatch taken by swordfish longline vessels in the middle of the North Atlantic ocean.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the meeting was the excessively high level of bluefin tuna catch that will be allowed in the eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. The TAC for eastern bluefin tuna was set at 32,000 metric tons through 2006. This level is far in excess of the 26,000 metric tons recommended by ICCAT’s scientific committee. However, on a more positive note, the minimum size was increased for the eastern Atlantic fishery and a goal was established to reduce the harvest of small bluefin by 60 percent over four years and strengthen compliance. ICCAT also placed a cap on the catch of bluefin tuna in the central Atlantic Ocean, which has grown dramatically in recent years, and if left unchecked could have had a significant negative effect on the western rebuilding program.

ICCAT also adopted a plan to maintain a list of large scale vessels authorized to fish for ICCAT species. This action should help eliminate fishing by vessels operating illegally and not reporting their catches. Processes and procedures for developing a list of IUU vessels were also developed. Vessels that are not on the authorized vessel list, or that are on the IUU list, will not be allowed to land their catches in the ports of ICCAT countries or to export those catches to ICCAT members.

In addition, ICCAT adopted a binding recommendation to improve data collection and enforcement.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), part of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement, and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.

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