Pacific bluefin tuna (Thunnus orientalis) have been fished irresponsibly for decades, and the species has declined to dangerously low levels. The 2012 assessment by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean, or ISC, concluded that Pacific bluefin has been decimated to 3.6 percent of its unfished population size. According to the ISC assessment, the 2010 biomass level was “near historically low levels and experiencing high exploitation rates above all biological reference points (BRPs commonly used by fisheries managers).” Although managers have implemented some long-overdue minimal management measures during the past few years, they are not science-based, coordinated across the species’ range, or adequate to rebuild Pacific bluefin, which have been severely depleted by years of overfishing.
The Pew Charitable Trusts calls on members of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, or IATTC, and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, or WCPFC, to take the following critical actions at their 2013 meetings, in fulfillment of their mandates, to reverse the decline of the Pacific bluefin tuna population:
- As required in WCPFC Conservation and Management Measure 2012-06 and IATTC Resolution C-12-09, review the 2012 stock assessment; and set a basin-wide quota that s based on the results of this assessment. This hard catch limit should include all sources of Pacific bluefin tuna mortality, including artisanal fisheries and bycatch and should be harmonized between the management areas of the WCPFC and IATTC according to scientific advice.
- Establish allocation keys so that each member has a specific quota under whch to manage its fishery.
- Prohibit the carry-forward of unused quota.
- Reduce the catch of juvenile Pacific bluefin tuna by adopting a minimum size limit that will prevent overfishing of all age classes and allow more fish to reach maturity and contribute to the next generation.
- Implement an effective monitoring program and enforcement process:
- Begin the development of electronic catch document programs to track every bluefin tuna from catch to final sale.
Use the electronic bluefin catch documentation, or eBCD, system of the International Commission for the Conservation
of Atlantic Tunas (to be implemented in May 2013) as a model.
- Require 100 percent observer coverage on purse seine vessels, including coastal purse seiners.
- Increase monitoring of bluefin tuna ranches, with 100 percent observer coverage at transfer to ranches and at harvest.
- Establish authorized vessel lists for longline, purse seine, and set net vessels catch Pacific bluefin tuna.
- Require immediate payback in the following year of any quota overage by a member country or fishing entity.
- Prohibit fishing by any member or fleet that does not report the required catch data.
- Collect more complete data on the level of artisanal catch that includes (at a minimum) report tonnage, number of individuals, and length or weight. Better characterize the artisanal fleets with number of vessels and capacity.
- Ensure that management measures are complementary and applied consistently on both sides of the Pacific, as required in paragraph 4, Article 22 of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission convention and Article XXIV of the Antigua Convention.
- If either the WCPFC or IATTC fails to adopt science-based catch limits for Pacific bluefin tuna in 2013, all Pacific bluefin tuna fisheries should be suspended until the measures listed above are fully implemented.