The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) kicks off its annual meeting this week, November 18-25th, in Cape Town, South Africa. At ICCAT, one of many Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs), the United States and 46 other members come together to discuss and develop international fisheries management measures for highly migratory species including tunas, swordfish and other billfish, and sharks.

The United States is committed to sustainable fisheries management. In our domestic fisheries we have made very significant advances on ending overfishing and rebuilding stocks. It is important to do the same with respect to international fisheries, but we cannot do it alone. The species managed by ICCAT are highly-migratory – which means they can swim long distances and cross international boundaries. For this reason, successful fisheries management can only be achieved through international cooperation.

This year, the United States will seek to improve elements of each of these components by focusing on:

Continuing the rebuilding programs for western and eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna to ensure stock growth and long-term sustainability.

With current measures expiring for North and South Atlantic swordfish, setting Total Allowable Catch levels for North and South Atlantic swordfish that ensure the continued sustainability of these stocks and maintain U.S. historical shares.

Continuing the rebuilding of North Atlantic albacore, while maintaining flexibility for minor harvesters.

Proposing, together with co-sponsors Brazil, EU, Belize, and United Kingdom overseas territories, that all sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached; also support precautionary and science-based management measures for sharks caught in association with ICCAT fisheries.

Strengthening the science underlying ICCAT management through an expanded dialogue between scientists and managers, improved statistical data collection by all, and support for the research initiatives needed to reduce uncertainties in stock assessments.

Enhancing the monitoring of ICCAT fisheries and combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by increasing the minimum rate of polling for vessel monitoring systems, requiring unique vessel identifiers for large-scale vessels, and advancing the implementation of ICCAT’s electronic bluefin tuna catch documentation system.

Continuing to strengthen ICCAT’s compliance review process and take meaningful actions in response to non-compliance.

Elements of Successful Fisheries Management

Science: Effective fisheries management begins with quality science. Quality science depends on good data on the fisheries being managed and an understanding of the biology of the fish being harvested.

Management: For RFMOs like ICCAT to sustainably manage the fish stocks that are under their responsibility they must follow the best available science, manage on an ecosystem basis, and use a precautionary approach when faced with scientific uncertainty. Managers must act when faced with scientific uncertainty and must act more cautiously to protect the resource.

Monitoring, Control and Surveillance: Collecting information on what is being caught and how it is being caught is important to ensure that scientists have the data necessary to provide the best possible advice and to support compliance efforts.

Compliance: Even the best management measures will do nothing to ensure the sustainability of a fishery if they are not complied with. It is critical for RFMOs to monitor compliance and, when there is non-compliance, respond adequately. Depending on the circumstances, that can be through capacity building where a country lacks the capability to ensure compliance, or the imposition of sanctions where a country is unwilling to take the necessary and agreed upon steps.

Image courtesy Dr. David Kerstetter, Nova Southeastern University/ Regional Fisheries Management Organizations

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