- Attempts to achieve a more environmentally sustainable regulation of fisheries in the Indian Ocean, in particular tuna catches off the East African coast, mostly failed during the annual meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) in Busan, Korea today.
Representatives from East Africa, the Indian Ocean island states and from environmentalist today expressed their disappointment over the new fisheries management plan approved by the IOTC.
"The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission continues to lag well behind nearly every other comparable fisheries regulator in its failure to introduce catch limits for the commercial fish species under its control," noted environmentalist Amani Ngusaru, head of WWF's Coastal East Africa Marine Programme.
African nations bordering the Indian Ocean have increasingly expressed concern over unsustainable tuna catches in their waters, in addition to too high bycatch rates. Most African proposals to limit these problems failed to gain a majority vote in the Commission.
As a step towards more sustainable fisheries along the African Indian Ocean coast, the IOTC decided to further limits off the Somali coast. This was today ridiculed by the environmentalist group WWF.
"We have this laughable measure that an area off Somalia which is already largely off limits due to piracy will be closed to long-liners for a month and purse seiners for a month. Are we really serious about limiting fishing pressure on our already overfished stocks?" asked Dr Ngusaru.
The IOTC's scientific community had warned member countries that bigeye tuna catches should be limited to 110,000 tonnes and yellowfin tuna should be limited to 300,000 tonnes. But although the meeting accepted these recommendations, action to institute catch restrictions is to wait on a process of setting country allocations.
Another key measure not adopted was a Seychelles proposal for a ban on discards of skipjack, yellowfin and big eye tuna from purse seine vessels. This would have reduced the carnage from the practice of trawlers "trading up" or discarding previous catches if better catches of higher value fish are found.
"Developing Indian ocean states were rightly upset about the failure to pass this significant bycatch measure as it is a food security issue for them," said Dr Ngusaru. "If it is good enough for fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean, why is not it good enough for fisheries in the Indian Ocean," he asked.
A key development of the meeting was the growing assertiveness of Indian Ocean developing states, many of which are East African, in taking responsibility for their fish stocks, both in improving management of their own fishing industries and in seeking better practice from foreign industrial fleets in their waters.
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