HOW MUCH FISH CAN WE FISH?
The role of scientists in the decision making process of ICCAT Hi everyone. At Planet Tuna we’ve created this video to explain the workings of the ICCAT, the International commission for the conservation of Atlantic tuna. This is where decisions are made to guarantee the sustainability of the fishing industry, which affects us all. Let’s jump in: We all agree that the oceans are one of the major sources of food on the planet, and that for this to continue to be the case, the fishing industry has to be regulated and monitored, because no one wants this resource to run out. Who is in charge of doing this? There are a series of international organizations that, based on scientific data, act as managers and as advisors to make sure that there are enough fish, both for fishing and so that they can continue to reproduce. In other words, to ensure sustainability. The ICCAT is one of these organizations. It manages the tuna and other migratory fish of the Atlantic and its seas: the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Caribbean. here are 53 members, and the decisions they make are based in part on what the scientists tell them. Among these many scientists are the researchers of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography. How is it done? By estimating abundance That is, by trying to answer the question: how many fish are there in the sea? The answer is essential if we want to know how many fish we can catch. But it’s not easy! let’s imagine some scientists in Kenya counting… oh I don’t know…elephants!?!. And now let’s imagine some scientists in the Atlantic counting… tuna!!? Estimating population numbers in the sea is a lot more difficult, so it requires collecting a lot of data. What data do the scientists use to estimate abundance? They use two kinds of sources: Each member of ICCAT has to report how much they’ve caught for each species, and the scientists then analize this data. And the scientist’s own data, based on studies of biological factors and abundance indexes, like for example the larval index, which allows them to estimate how many breeding fish there are based on the number of fish larvae observed in a certain quantity of water. This is a bit easier that watching the ocean surface, isn’t it? Now that we understand a bit about how these calculations are carried out, let’s look at how the organization works and how decisions are made: First, Scientists work with these and with a lot of other other data in the annual meetings of experts in each species. Experts from NGO’s and representatives of the fishing industry can also participate. Here we see the experts from the swordfish group, from the bluefin tuna group, or from the tropical tuna group, which includes the bigeye or Thunnus obesus. It’s a less well-known cousin of the bluefin tuna, but it’s in high demand, and in fact it’s already showing signs of overfishing. Broadly speaking, what they do is to agree on what they consider important for the conservation of the species and after reaching consensus they write up a scientific report. For now these will just be recommendations, but the process is on it’s way. The recommendations go to an ICCAT committee, the Standing Committee on Research and Statistics, (SCRS) that approves the reports and creates a mega report with the most complete and current statistics on the ICAAT species. They pass it along to the Secretariat, which is a kind of general distributor of information: among other things, it receives all the reports, translates them, edits them and organizes them for the Commission. And finally, it’s time for the Annual Commission. There are about 800 people present, between scientists, NGO’s, fisheries, and representatives from the member countries who arrive with the SCRS reports under their arms. The representatives from the member countries are the ones who are going to do the negotiating. In order to make decisions, dialogue is essential: They will spend 8 days reviewing the situation and proposing measures for each species. Only when all the countries reach consensus will they agree to a series of measures that everyone will be obliged to follow. They don’t always reach an agreement, and in that case the previous measures will stay in place for one more year. Here are some of the measures: some of them will sound familiar: the minimum size that can be fished, for example bluefin tuna have to weigh at least 30 kilos to be fished the obligation to report everything that is caught. the famous fishing quotas, which are the maximum number of tons of a species that can be fished per year. ICCAT manages many species: large and small tunas, bonito, sharks, swordfish, marlins… there are equivalent organizations in the rest of the world’s oceans and with this video we’ve seen how important they are, and how they base their decisions at least in part on scientific information. It’s complicated but necessary to find a balance between the management measures, fishing, and the need for food in order to guarantee the sustainability of the fish populations.