Improving management in eastern Pacific tuna fisheries

Fishing boats on the water in Ecuador

For countries in the Eastern Pacific Ocean region, tuna fisheries are an important source of income and employment; nearly 14% of the world’s tuna is sourced from this region.

The strong global demand for tuna and the overcapacity of fishing fleets will likely cause tuna stocks to decline if management strategies for the species are not improved.

Tuna is a migratory species and can swim across the open ocean in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). This lack of jurisdiction creates both ecological and political challenges for conservation and management of these vital species.

As part of the Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project—an initiative funded by the Global Environmental Facility and implemented by the FAO—WWF hosted a series of workshops to strengthen management strategies in the region.

The Project

With the right management, overfishing can be prevented. For example, global tuna stocks would benefit from agreed-upon catch limits or established benchmarks that scientists can use as reference points to understand the species’ population status.

A management strategy combines all the measures that are put into place to achieve the biological, economic, and social objectives of tuna fisheries.

These strategies are only successful if composed of two parts: a technical basis provided by fisheries scientists and input from all other stakeholders. Often, a lack of communication and understanding between the scientific community and other actors can lead to a disjointed and ineffective strategy.

Management strategy evaluation (MSE) is a process that allows stakeholders to assess how effective different management strategies can be. Think of it as a flight simulator game, except for tuna populations—computer programs are used to model different management measures and scenarios.

Throughout 2019, WWF convened workshops on MSE in five tuna fishing nations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean: Ecuador, Panama, the United States, Mexico, and Colombia. Workshop participants included scientists, company vessel operators, and representatives from government ministries and civil society organizations.

The objective of these workshops is simple: to familiarize all stakeholders about the new concepts and scenarios in modern fishing management that are discussed in high-level negotiations of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), the tuna management and conservation organization for the Eastern Pacific Ocean.

The Results

“After attending this workshop, I feel more confident in preparing arguments to propose management alternatives.”

Panama workshop

These workshops provided the space for all stakeholders to come together—many for the first time—and become more familiar with the principles and methods of MSE. With this new knowledge, industry participants can now buy-into and effectively participate in the scientific MSE process.

With the industry in the room, the IATTC heard firsthand the industry’s objectives and concerns and can use them to inform future policy-setting. Opening communication channels between the scientific community and the industry will enrich our understanding of the health and sustainability of tuna stocks, as currently, many scientists can only rely on catch data from onboard observers.

Next Steps

Over the next four years, the scientific staff of the IATTC will conduct technical and modeling exercises across the region to develop more effective management measures. In addition to this scientific component, the ideas and comments put forth by all stakeholders across the tuna value chain will allow scientists to refine their analyses. It is expected that this series of workshops will contribute to this necessary dialogue.

“I thank you for bringing the discussion of these important issues to our [region].”

Luigi Benincasa
Director of ATUNEC, Ecuador

Eventually, the results of this management strategy evaluation will contribute to new management recommendations by the IATTC, including proposed harvest control rules to determine annual catch.

View the below video to learn how this workshop enabled a diversity of stakeholders in Ecuador—a country that contributes nearly half of the annual tuna catch in the Eastern Pacific Ocean—to engage in developing more sustainable management strategies for the region.