Another year has gone by and here again I sit in a nearly two-week long meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). If you have ever picked up a fishing magazine, you have undoubtedly heard of this dysfunctional management body that controls the international harvest of highly migratoryspecies (HMS) of fish within the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. And as dysfunctional as it is, it is still the only game in town. Looking around the room at several hundred delegates and observers, I can count the number of recreational fishing representatives on one hand. The rest are commercial fishing interests and government officials who represent commercial fishing interests in their respective countries. The meeting has always been and continues to be about commercial harvest and how these important fish are doled out to the 48 contracting parties from 70 plus nations. With that said, it is still extremely important for the recreational fishing community to have a presence here – keeping an eye on the fox as he guards the henhouse, if you will. In any given moment in any given session of the meeting, a decision can be made that has deleterious affects on the recreational community, both inside and outside of the US.
The forward progress here can often only be measured in angstroms. I sometimes wonder if I am here just to prevent the cart from rolling back down the hill as opposed topushing it forward. Having been formerly employed by government, I am all too familiar with the inefficiencies of a bureaucracy. However, the bureaucracy of ICCAT is of UN proportions. If I were Chairman (which is not possible, by the way), the first motion I would make would be to ban the practice of meaningless expressions of gratitude. Prior to each intervention, it is not uncommon for the intervening speaker to spend five minutes thanking and congratulating all of the previous speakers for their hard work and useful input. This simple motion could cut the meeting time in half, and provide much needed funds now used on meeting space for research, monitoring and reporting – the three biggest challenges in fisheries management.
Occasionally beneficial things do happen at ICCAT and we need to be supportive when it does. In 2010, an annual Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of 12,900 tonnes was adopted for Eastern Atlantic Bluefin tuna, which was within the range of scientific advice and which is to be reviewed in 2012. Also in 2010, ICCAT adopted measures to prohibit retention of oceanic whitetip and hammerhead sharks caught in ICCAT fisheries, as well as a measure prohibiting international trade in hammerhead sharks. These are good things. However, stocks are still being managed at the Maximum Sustainable Yield (i.e. how much can we harvest before stock collapses) and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing continues.
So, what will happen this year? Stay tuned for 2011 results. To view the IGFA opening statement that was submitted into the record, go to http://www.igfa.org/Conserve/Position-Statements.aspx.
International Game Fish Association