Fisheries: results of Indian Ocean Tuna Commission meeting
The 15th Plenary Session of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka from 18 to 22 March. A three-day meeting of the IOTC Compliance Committee had preceded the plenary. The Plenary outcome was rather disappointing for the EU. While the Organisation made considerable progress in its first country-based compliance exercise, which scrutinised each and every IOTC member and cooperating party, the Plenary marked a step backward compared to 2010; it was mainly held back by some North-East Indian Ocean Coastal States, which run some of the less controlled fleets in the area.
In tuna fisheries in the Indian Ocean, compliance is the main problem. The Compliance Committee meeting identified several shortcomings, especially regarding the tracking of catch data for science and management.
Generally speaking, IOTC members worked with a positive attitude toward identifying their own compliance problems. A working methodology was established. This good spirit of cooperation was only marred by the negative stance of some members, who accused the process of being too stiff and cumbersome and risked undermining the whole exercise.
As a next step, members will formally reply to the problems spotted; this should also be the starting point for the next year's Compliance Committee and the basis on which each member should start addressing its own shortcomings.
In the IOTC plenary session, most of the main conservation and management proposals were rejected. This is tantamount to rendering the organisation powerless in the face of urgent problems such as the protection of endangered species like hammerhead or oceanic white tip sharks; for these the EU had tabled proposal prohibiting their retention on board.
Among the many important proposals tabled by the EU, only two were in fact adopted: an amendment of the IOTC resolution against illegal fishing to strengthen the fight against illegal activities in the area; and a Statement on Piracy launching a clear message from the IOTC to the international community on the serious issue of piracy in the West Indian Ocean.
The EU finds it particularly disheartening that a measure on data collection by the most uncontrolled fleets, notably the gillnet ones, and the extension of the reporting obligations for the most endangered sharks species, based on clear advice by the IOTC scientific committee, were downgraded to voluntary measures: they were harshly opposed by the same Coastal States which had tried to obstruct the compliance exercise.
The IOTC plenary was also dissatisfactory in the fight against illegal fishing. None of the vessels proposed for inclusion onto the black list – for having committed serious acts against IOTC legislation or having violated the principles of responsible fisheries – was actually included. Against the better judgement of the EU and a few others, the majority of the IOTC Contracting Parties preferred to adopt a complacent laissez faire attitude towards those states which are unable to monitor their fleets. This could jeopardise the credibility of this regional management organisation and become a dangerous precedent of ineffective management.