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Highlights of 2013 International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) Meeting

November 26, 2013

Two Atlantic swordfish caught using nighttime gear. Credit: Dr. David Kerstetter, Nova Southeastern University


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.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) concluded its annual meeting yesterday after adopting several new measures that will support the sustainable management of key species. 

There were contentious negotiations for major stocks managed by ICCAT -- western and eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna; North and South Atlantic swordfish; and North and South Atlantic albacore. At the same time, the United States was disappointed that the Commission was unable to agree on several shark measures, including a U.S. proposal to require that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached. 

Actions taken by ICCAT at this year's meeting include:

  • Extending for one year the current Total Allowable Catch (TAC) level for western Atlantic bluefin to support continued stock growth. Research plans will be developed t to improve the science behind the management of this important resource. The current TAC in the eastern Atlantic was also extended, and an update for both eastern and western stocks will take place in 2014.

  • Extending management measures for North and South Atlantic swordfish for three years, to ensure the continued sustainability of these stocks while protecting the U.S. share of these fisheries. 

  • Maintaining current TACs were also adopted for North and South Atlantic albacore.

  • Again proposing, along with Belize and Brazil, a requirement that all sharks caught in ICCAT fisheries be landed with their fins naturally attached. While not adopted, support for this approach is growing. The European Union, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Senegal and the United Kingdom – Overseas Territories joined as co-sponsors of this proposal, and Gabon also expressed support from the floor.

  • Adopting a requirement for many vessels greater than 20 meters to obtain unique vessel identifiers (UVIs). This new tool will support ongoing efforts to fight IUU fishing and help to level the playing field for U.S. fishermen.

  • Conducting a thorough review of the records of the 47 members of ICCAT, and 5 non-members, to determine compliance with dozens of conservation measures and reporting requirements. On the basis of this review, some fishing rights will be suspended and ICCAT will send letters of concern or identification that indicate areas where progress must be demonstrated. A U.S. representative was again elected to chair ICCAT’s Compliance Committee for the next two years.


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.