EU leads international efforts to restore sustainable tuna stocks

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), responsible for the conservation of tunas and tuna like species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas, has concluded its Annual Meeting in Marrakesh on 14 – 21 November.

The meeting was dominated by discussions surrounding Bluefin tuna, in particular for the Eastern and Mediterranean stock. Based on scientific advice, ICCAT agreed to a gradual increase in the total allowed catches (TAC) reaching a maximum of 36,000 ton in 2020 (28,200t in 2018 and 32,240t in 2019). This increase reflects a widely recognised improvement in the overall situation for Atlantic tuna stocks, compared to a decade ago. Whilst the proposal for the increase was not tabled by the EU, the general improvement of the stock reflects the outcome of action led by the European Union and the sustained efforts by fishermen and the fishing industry, in the last decade.


Against this background, the EU had proposed to replace the existing rebuilding plan with a management plan for Eastern Bluefin tuna, acknowledging the success of the recovery measures implemented since 2007. However, it was decided to delay the discussions to next year’s ICCAT meeting.

ICCAT also continued its work on other commercially important species, in particular on Northern albacore. Based on an EU-proposal, for the first time in ICCAT history, Harvest Control Rules were adopted and TAC increased by 20%. Harvest Control Rules are the latest generation of science-based approaches to effective fisheries management and provide guidelines on how much fishing can take place according to the state of the stock.

Moreover, ICCAT adopted measures to freeze the fishing effort on the stock of Mediterranean albacore, adopting a precautionary approach until better information becomes available on this stock. Finally, ICCAT adopted Recommendations reducing the TACs for Northern and Southern Atlantic swordfish tabled by the EU, also with the objective of adopting a precautionary approach encouraged by the scientific Committee. In terms of Tropical tunas, ICCAT did not adopt specific measures this year but decided to implement a pro-rata reduction of the TACs for Bigeye tuna and Yellowfin tuna, for which overfishing took place in 2016. It is also planned that an extensive review of the existing management measures should take place in 2018.

Regarding sharks, ICCAT was able to adopt measures aimed at protecting sharks in the North Atlantic. The measures adopted for Northern shortfin mako aim to reduce the current fishing mortality and to lay the ground for the adoption of more ambitious measures in 2019. Despite an increase in the number of Parties supporting the proposal to introduce a fins-attached policy, it was regrettably not possible to secure its adoption.

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For a different opinion on whether Tuna stocks have sufficiently recovered see article 'Disgraceful behaviour by the EU at high-level tuna meeting in Marrakesh' (22.11.17) at Authors include MEP Linnéa Engström (Greens/EFA), vice-chair of the European Parliament’s fisheries committee and head of the delegation to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.