NOAA 99-R163
Contact: Gordon Helm

Strong Actions Taken to Address Unreported and Unregulated Fishing

The United States successfully negotiated a commitment to rebuild North Atlantic swordfish within ten years at the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. The hard-won program is thanks to the strong support of Canada, and was made possible by significant sacrifices by U.S. swordfishermen. The United States also sponsored a resolution calling on the scientific body of ICCAT to report in two years on research regarding the use of time-area closures and-or gear modifications to reduce the catch of undersized swordfish.

The 16th Regular Meeting of ICCAT was held in Rio de Janeiro in late November. The 27-member organization oversees the conservation and management of Atlantic tunas and tuna-like fishes, including North Atlantic swordfish, which was scientifically reassessed this year.

"Achieving a 10-year recovery plan for swordfish represents a major success, however it is only part of the answer," said Robert Mallett, deputy secretary of commerce. "We feel the quotas need to be lower to give swordfish a greater chance of recovery, and we will be closely monitoring the situation over the next few years."

Deputy Secretary Mallett also underscored the U.S. resolve to continue to improve compliance with ICCAT recommendations, and in particular, the need to monitor and control illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities.

"I am extremely proud of what we were able to accomplish this year at ICCAT," said Rolland Schmitten, U.S. government commissioner to ICCAT and deputy assistant secretary of commerce for international affairs. "The swordfish negotiations were extremely arduous, and we were only able to reach agreement because of the total support of U.S. ICCAT advisors, including recreational and commercial fishermen, and the environmental community. It is in very large part thanks to them that we were able to achieve the unanimous commitment of the U.S. Delegation and the Commission to establish a 10-year rebuilding program for this important species."

The U.S. delegation was led by Schmitten, and also was represented by J. Michael Nussman, U.S. recreational commissioner, and Glen Roger Delaney, U.S. commercial commissioner. 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 the various stakeholder groups. The eight-day meeting covered numerous topics, although compliance with ICCAT measures and North Atlantic swordfish management were the two dominant issues.

The United States also joined with Canada in securing ICCAT agreement on significant steps in the area of compliance by both member and non-member parties. For the first time ever, trade sanctions were adopted against an ICCAT member country (Equatorial Guinea) due to non-compliance with ICCAT's conservation program for bluefin tuna. In addition, ICCAT adopted a trade embargo on swordfish against two non-member countries, Honduras and Belize, for fishing in a manner that diminishes the effectiveness of ICCAT swordfish measures. A number of countries face penalties for their 1998 quota overages, including Morocco, Libya, Brazil, Uruguay and the People's Republic of China. Despite these accomplishments, the United States was disappointed that previous calculations for establishing Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna quotas had been adjusted, negating some of the conservation achievements made last year.

In a move reflective of the deputy secretary's opening statement, 10 countries - both member and non-member - whose vessels are believed to be engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, were identified under ICCAT's IUU resolution. They are Belize, Cambodia, Honduras, Kenya, the Philippines, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Guinea. These countries may be subject to trade sanctions in subsequent years. Finally, the United States stressed the need for all parties to provide complete data, including recreational fisheries data, in order to ensure the best possible management measures for ICCAT species.

In measures addressing bigeye, albacore and yellowfin fisheries, the closure for fish aggregation devices fishing in the Gulf of Guinea was extended for one year in an effort to reduce the harvest of small fish. The scientific arm of ICCAT, the Standing Committee for Research and Statistics (SCRS), was requested to provide rebuilding scenarios for northern albacore, which was estimated to be overfished in this year's stock assessment. In addition, the U.S. allocation of southern albacore was revised to reflect the bycatch nature of this fishery.

A U.S. proposal encouraging countries to participate in the collection and provision of data on shark bycatch to SCRS and to ban the practice of finning in their shark fisheries was not adopted.

"Achieving the ten year rebuilding plan for swordfish is the most significant conservation action ever taken for this species," Schmitten said. "It is a huge victory for the fish and those that depend on them."