RFMO engagement

Regional Fisheries Management Organisations delegates are, to varying degrees, flexible and open to influence through lobbying. This is evident by the substantive engagement of the catching sector in RFMOs, both on flag state delegations and as observers. In comparison, the influence of retailers and other supply chain members is far less significant and often apparently absent.

However, supply chain engagement can occur and when coordinated can result in substantial outcomes. For example, in 2016 the IOTC introduced harvest control rules for skipjack tuna. This decision was the culmination of many months of meetings and collaboration among numerous organisations including fishers, industry groups and retailers.

The International Pole and Line Foundation hosted a workshop, supported by the Marine Stewardship Council, WWF, the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, UK retailers Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer, and World Wise Foods – helping to build support for the proposal. A number of retailers and brands, including Tesco, Waitrose and Princes, subsequently added their voices to calls for harvest control rule implementation, which was ultimately successful.

Based on this example, we believe there is real scope for tuna retailers, brands, processors, and traders to play a greater role in communicating with the RFMO decision-makers and member states, in order to ensure that the shared ambition and need from a market perspective for well-managed, sustainable tuna fisheries, is clearly articulated in terms of trade opportunity, value and economics.

To achieve this, we need:

NGO alignment on the RFMO ask(s)

This is important to ensure that supply chain members are not being urged to support numerous asks which may (i) dilute the impact when received by the RFMO delegates and/or (ii) be conflicting. The Global Tuna Alliance supports the Global NGO Tuna Forum which provides such alignment.

Focused advocacy

It is important that we aren’t seeking too much at any one time and thus risk losing the impact of our advocacy by diluting the priority objectives. This argues for simple, single-issue asks rather than trying to address a myriad of different issues all at once. In addition, we need to deliver country- specific delegation advocacy where necessary to ensure tailored pressure for change.

Evidence-based, scientifically justifiable, achievable ask(s)

For engagement to be effective the asks must be realistic. In addition, the asks must be understandable by the advocators; it is impracticable to expect effective advocacy if the asks are too complex to explain clearly, accurately and succinctly.

Critical mass of aligned industry support

The IOTC skipjack harvest control rule (HCR) success was likely heavily supported by the fact that members from the whole supply chain were asking for the adoption of harvest control roles – including the catchers and individual country governments. This approach must be adopted going forward whereby support for, and engagement in, advocacy to members of RFMOs is considered a
condition of supply.

Global Tuna Alliance RFMO Asks

There are many challenges facing the development of sustainable tuna fisheries including gear conflicts, overfishing, inadequate management, poor enforcement, etc.

We believe addressing the management gap and traceability must be the priorities, as effective management not only ensures the continued productivity of the target resources but also the accomplishment of other elements of fisheries sustainability. Effective traceability (tracking tuna products from vessel to the final buyer) underpins sustainability efforts as it creates transparency and accountability within the supply chain, thereby enabling markets to directly support improved fisheries performance.

At present, tuna fisheries management decisions are often based on short-term objectives, putting the long-term sustainability of many tuna fisheries at increased risk. 

The Global Tuna Alliance believes harvest strategies, which include pre-agreed frameworks for making fisheries management decisions (including changing limits to catch or effort), would help move beyond the current political gridlock too often seen in the tuna RFMOs.

It is noted that while there has been progress made at the RFMO level to put precautionary harvest strategies in place, there is substantial variance in individual performance by the RFMOs.


  • No RFMO is currently addressing all core elements as defined above
  • Implementation has either yet to be started or has not occurred fully
  • The adoption and implementation of harvest strategies is not moving fast enough
  • There are concerns about backsliding

Accordingly, a key strategy of the Global Tuna Alliance is to work with RFMO member states to seek the implementation of effective harvest strategies to achieve sustainable tuna stocks under the jurisdiction of each tuna RFMO by 2020.

Effective traceability (tracking tuna products from vessel to the final buyer) underpins sustainability efforts as it creates transparency and accountability within the supply chain. Transparency (making information ultimately available to authorities and the public, including vessel fishing permissions, location of fishing activities, and catch and effort data) allows improved management of fisheries and encourages improved fisheries performance. Improved transparency also increases the likelihood that human rights abuses will be identified and stopped.

While most of the systems needed to implement traceability and transparency can be implemented independently by seafood companies, The Global Tuna Alliance will work to enhance existing RFMO efforts. By working with governments to establish systems to identify and restrict illegal seafood, and build capacity to establish and manage information systems to account for domestic and international fishing fleets, landings, enforcement and trade of seafood products, by:

The Global Tuna Alliance believes this can be achieved by encouraging members’ own policy or government engagement departments to engage with and support advocacy efforts for the development of harvest strategies and harvest control rules, ratification and implementation of the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA), ratification and implementation of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Working in Fishing Convention and the development of Global Record of Fishing Vessels.