The Global Tuna Alliance (GTA), Tuna Protection Alliance (TUPA), WWF and major tuna supply chain players are informing the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) that failure to cut yellowfin catch levels in line with scientific advice could affect sourcing decisions. The warnings come ahead of the next meeting of the IOTC planned for 8-12 May 2023, where the ongoing overfishing of Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna will be a key topic. These seafood supply chain companies call on the IOTC to enact urgent reform to prevent deadlock in the decision-making process that would allow the rebuilding of yellowfin stocks within two generations and stop a situation where the market could be driven further away from the Indian Ocean.
The GTA, TUPA and WWF have released their own joint statement, in which they push a triad of recommendations for the upcoming IOTC meeting: (1) set an overall 30% cut in catch relative to 2020 levels to stop yellowfin overfishing by 2030; (2) agree on a resolution that specifies how the yellowfin stock could be rebuilt in two generations; (3) revise the IOTC Treaty to prevent members from stalling measures they don’t like through the current objection process.
This extraordinary collaboration between the three organisations and several of their market partners follows years of failure on the part of the IOTC to agree to a rebuilding plan to end the overfishing of yellowfin tuna, which has been classified as overfished since 2015. In 2021, an interim plan that would have placed a modest annual catch limit of 401,011 tonnes was torpedoed by formal objections from six countries, despite 24 countries backing the agreement.
Later in 2021, a report by the IOTC’s Scientific Committee found that a further 51,000 tonnes cut would be needed to achieve maximum sustainable yield – the amount of a stock that can be caught while keeping the population stable. They also noted that a 30% reduction in the catch level from 2020 would be needed to grant a two out of three chance of rebuilding the stock by 2030.
In spite of this scientific guidance, the objecting countries continued to push back on agreeing to the rebuilding plan at the IOTC meeting in 2022.
The catalogue of rebuilding plans that have been frustrated by a minority on “spurious” grounds is why, according to GTA Executive Director, Dr. Tom Pickerell, a revision to the IOTC objection procedure is needed. He said:
“It’s ludicrous to have a system whereby countries can simply opt out of management measures they don’t like without providing any rationale or alternative. It also penalises the ‘good actors’ that are trying to be constructive. Only through collective responsibility and action will a rebuilding plan for Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna succeed.”
Speaking about the consequences of further inaction, Umair Shahid, WWF’s Indian Ocean Tuna Manager added:
“Some delegations of the IOTC have exhibited a reckless disregard for the advice of the IOTC Scientific Committee, which clearly indicates that further delay will require bigger catch reductions in the future. They are taking a huge gamble with the future of the yellowfin stock in the Indian Ocean by obstructing a rebuilding plan. Depleting the stock would be a no-win situation, with consumers, fishers, the supply chain, the economies of producing countries and our ocean ecosystems all losing out.”
Highlighting the role of the market in advocating for a yellowfin rebuilding plan, Florie Hovine, TUPA coordinator said:
“Everyone expects environmental groups to intervene when it comes to unsustainable fishing practices. But the supply chain has a very important role in driving change when it comes to Indian Ocean yellowfin. The fact is, sustainable fisheries management is no longer a nice-to-have for tuna suppliers and retailers. If the IOTC cannot turn the tide on overfished yellowfin, the Indian Ocean’s commercial viability will be damaged irreparably and the supply chain will look elsewhere for their yellowfin.”
Some of the major seafood suppliers and retailers that have released statements calling on the IOTC to end the deadlock and agree on a rebuilding plan include: Princes, Norpac, Auchan, Colruyt, Moalia, E.Leclerc, Lidl France, Groupement Les Mousquetaires, Coopérative U Enseigne and Bolton.
In their statement, Princes Group called on:
“The IOTC to take urgent action to bring catches down across the fishery in line with the scientific advice. Princes has voluntarily reduced its use of Indian Ocean yellowfin by more than 50% since 2017; the purse seine fleet that supplies us has delivered catch reductions in line with the IOTC’s yellowfin rebuilding plan, and we have recently announced our plans to convert Princes branded UK tuna to 100% MSC by the end of 2025.”
“The current status quo of infighting and disagreement needs to end and responsibility must be taken.”
Similarly pointing out the consequences on their sourcing, Colruyt Group said:
“Given the consistent overfishing, overfished status of the Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna stock since 2015 and unsustainable practices, in 2020 we decided to stop buying yellowfin tuna from the Indian Ocean.”
Explaining the steps that Bolton Food has already taken, Luciano Pirovano, Global Sustainable Development Director said:
“We decided to take prompt action to reach our goal of reducing our supply of yellowfin tuna from the Indian Ocean by 30%. This is an important step that we as leaders feel we must take, both to support and encourage the healthy recovery of stocks of this species through science-based precautionary measures, and to be a virtuous example for other companies in the fish market and thus influence the entire industry. Together with WWF, we have been committed for years to promoting responsible fish sourcing to ensure the long-term prosperity of stocks, which is why we believe it is critical to ensure the recovery of those currently in trouble.”
Recognising the economic gain that could come from rebuilding the yellowfin stock, Norpac Fisheries Export said:
“We source many millions of pounds of fresh and frozen tuna for our extensive customer base. However, we are unable to support any tuna fishery not being managed to prevent overfishing, or not moving away from an overfished status. Should the IOTC make substantive progress in addressing the existing deficiencies in the management plan, Norpac would readily engage with the tuna fishery in the region.”
All of the statements can be read in full here.