Commercial tuna fishers furious as IATTC conservation measures fail, future of group in doubt
Sourse: SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [Panama City, Panama – July 2, 2008 by John Sackton]

An unprecedented coalition of commercial and environmental conservation groups is furious with the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission for a total failure to agree on any conservation measures recommended by their own scientists. The failure calls into question whether the IATTC will even remain relevant to tuna conservation, and may very well push some groups into direct economic actions.

The latest failure in Panama represented the IATTC’s fourth attempt in the past year to develop a binding conservation agreement in the face of declining stocks.

What makes this more striking is that the U.S., Mexico, and Venezuela pushed hard for the organization to take action, backed with the full support of a extremely wide ranging coalition that includes the major commercial tuna organizations and the major environmental organizations.

The members of the group include Humane Society International, Ocean Conservancy, Conservation International, WWF, National Fisheries Institute, The Billfish Foundation, MarViva, American Fishermen’s Research Foundation, The Western Fishboat Owners Association and BirdLife International.

The failure of the IATTC meeting calls into question what happens when regional fisheries management organizations fail to act in the interests of the conservation of the fish stock according to international norms, and instead allows individual rapacious countries block actions, knowing that no action leaves them wide open to fish as hard as they wish.

The NGO and industry coalition issued the following statement after the meeting:

?Faced with declining populations of bigeye and yellowfin tuna, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) concluded its annual meeting last week in Panama City and failed to produce a binding conservation agreement.

This was the IATTC’s fourth attempt in the past year to adopt conservation measures to combat overfishing and launch the recovery of certain tuna populations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Once again negotiations failed.

According to the IATTC’s own data, bigeye and yellowfin tuna populations are declining and the average size of captured individuals is decreasing. Meanwhile, fishing capacity, effort and efficiency are on the rise and the high capture rate of juveniles before they reach reproductive age is exacerbating population declines.

A growing coalition including international conservation organizations and recreational and commercial fishing interests has repeatedly issued joint statements calling upon the members of IATTC to take urgent action and follow the advice of the IATTC’s own highly qualified scientific staff.

This advice continues to be disregarded.

Of the management options considered by the member countries at the Panama meeting, most fell far short of the minimum recommended by IATTC scientists.

The world will never know if the watered down measures would have succeeded as the dice have been rolled once again in hopes that recovery will occur despite the ongoing absence of concerted action to stem tuna population declines.

While most countries indicated a willingness to negotiate and the delegations of Mexico, Venezuela, the United States and others worked tirelessly to build a consensus, a few member states were reluctant to compromise and effectively blocked adoption of a binding agreement.

Though other nations dragged their feet, the failure to reach consensus was largely attributable to Colombia, which obstructed progress and even called into question the authority of the IATTC to issue binding conservation resolutions.

Colombia, the IATTC’s newest member, effectively derailed the negotiation process by demanding a special exemption from implementing the seven-week fishery closure period to allow fish stock recovery that all other member nations agreed to.

Negotiations broke down as nations insisted that measures had to be applicable to all and Colombia refused to comply.

Despite conservation setbacks, the meeting represented an important victory for transparency and inclusion of non-fishing groups in the discussions. The Parties to the IATTC accepted a United States proposal that allowed a representative of the non-governmental organizations to participate with member countries in closed-door negotiating sessions.

Once a model for other regional fishery management organizations, the ability of the IATTC to manage tuna stocks is in question.

The IATTC is known for its expert scientific staff, its strong fishery vessel observer program, and its successful program to reduce dolphin mortality by purse seine vessels.

However, as international organizations pointed out to member countries during the Panama meeting’s plenary session, past accomplishments cannot justify present inaction. Increasingly, the positions taken by some countries are formulated primarily on short-term economic considerations, rather than the long-term sustainability of the fisheries on which the food and job security of tens of thousands depend.

The IATTC stands at a cross-road where member countries must define in its next October meeting whether to choose the path of being an effective or dysfunctional fisheries management organization.

Failure to reach a consensus does not result in a fishery closure, but rather a fishery operating without agreed conservation measures. Consequently, there is little incentive to compromise or reach agreement for those parties unwilling to join the majority in making difficult decisions.

It remains to be seen whether the mounting pressure from the general public and seafood wholesale buyers, retailers and consumers will be enough to promote international cooperation at the IATTC.

Market-based incentives combined with consumer purchasing power are fundamentally important in encouraging sustainability by rewarding responsible fishing nations in the Pacific and elsewhere. Until then, the long-term sustainability of the resource and health of ocean ecosystems will continue to be left to a few that have once again demonstrated failure to work together constructively and to act decisively.

For more information:
Randall Arauz
Tel (506) 2241 5227, FAX (506) 2236 6017

PRETOMA is a Costa Rican Civil Association of Public Interest, and is an active member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature IUCN and the World Society for the Protection of Animals WSPA.

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    Commercial tuna fishers furious as IATTC conservation measures fail, future of group in doubt   Sourse: SEAFOOD.COM NEWS An unprecedented coalition of commercial and environmental conservation groups is furious with the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission for...