Catch Quota of Eastern Pacific Bluefin

At the annual meeting of IATTC held at the end of Jun. in the U.S.A., the catch quota of Bluefin tuna in the Eastern Pacific Ocean was set for the first time.  The quota totals 10,000 tons over the 2 years, for 2012 and 2013.

At the annual meeting in 2011, the management measures for Bluefin tuna were not decided because Mexico opposed against the joint proposal submitted by Japan, the U.S.A., Canada etc.  However, the catch quota seemed to be adopted without any conflicts of interests at this annual meeting.  It is uncertain why Mexico changed her attitude, but I was impressed by how IATTC could manage to set the catch quota.  The catch quota, if it is once set, possibly leads into the declining trend gradually unless the stock condition shows recovery.  It is natural for fishermen to believe that they eventually face the strict regulation and they want to avoid such management measures.

Bluefin tuna harvest in IATTC water recently remains at the level of 4,000 tons annually while the harvest had reached to 7,800 tons in 2010 and down to 3,200 tons in 2011.  Thus, this catch quota does not cause any actual pain for fishermen.  In addition, most of the harvest is used for the farming business in Mexico which aims mainly to export the products to Japanese market.  This new quota is unlikely to reduce the supply to Japan.  Moreover, this regulation does not force to re-arrange the production or distribution.  However, this catch quota has a significant meaning as I noted below.

First of all, it has brought about the establishment of the conservation management systems for all waters which Pacific Bluefin Tuna migrates.  Pacific Bluefin tuna is a highly migratory resource which widely migrates from the east to the west in the North Pacific.  Thus, IATTC which manages tunas in eastern Pacific and WCPFC managing western Pacific need to cooperate and work together in order to manage Pacific Bluefin effectively.  Over highly migratory species, it is not effective to manage the resource only in the limited area.  The management measures need to cover the entire migratory area.

In 2009, WCPFC adopted measures to ensure that fishing effort of Bluefin tuna in western Pacific shall not be increased from the level of 2002-2004 based on the advice from International Scientific Committee.  In addition, it adopted the measures to reduce the catch of immature fish from the level of 2002-2004, as well as expressed the need to promote cooperation with the IATTC over the resource management of Pacific Bluefin tuna.  As IATTC set the catch quota this time, I expect that it stimulates the cooperation with WCPFC and establishes sufficient conservation measures for Pacific Bluefin Tuna.

In 2010, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was likely to adopt a proposal to designate the Atlantic Bluefin tunas as an endangered species and to ban the international trade completely.  On the background, there were strong doubts from resource conservation groups against the management ability of regional fisheries management organizations.

IATTC failed to settle the management measures of Bigeye and Yellowfin tunas a few years ago, but this time, quota setting for Bluefin tuna could be said to show the improvement of its ability to manage the resources.   Especially in the past, catch  quota was set after the resource level was fallen to the endangered level, but this time, the quota was set well in advance.  This approach would lead to restraint excessive increase of fishing capacity with no limitation.

On the other hand, what I am concerned is declining capability of WCPFC to manage the resource.  The revision of conservation management measure for Bigeye and Yellowfin tunas was shelved due to unsettled discussion at the last annual meeting.  In addition, it failed to restrain the increasing number of larger scale purse-seiners, drawing the abnormal situation.  WCPFC might need to settle this issue at the annual meeting to be held in Dec. this year.  It would be not such easy to overcome essential problems of WCPFC such as the conflicts between island nations in the South Pacific  and distant water fishing nations. However, if these issues are not settled, there is no doubt that all relevant parties including industries eventually find out themselves in pain. (This article is a translation from Minato Fisheries Daily in Japan.)