The continued existence of the purse seine fleet in the Indian Ocean is at stake following the decision on Fish Aggregating Devices that was taken following a vote among Indian Ocean Tuna Commission members – potentially putting thousands of jobs at risk.
The decision to phase out the use of drifting FADs in the tuna fishery is seen as a strategy to exclude European operators from Indian Ocean waters, rather than being connected to any particular concerns for stocks, and Europêche warns that canneries in the Seychelles and Mauritius may not survive, as these businesses depend on the purse seine fleet for their supply of raw material.
The Mauritian delegate in the meeting said that, ‘Mauritius is not a big fishing nation yet. It is a processing nation. For that Mauritius needs raw material. The purse seine fishery contributes 20,000 jobs and guarantees the access to the EU market, which brings good opportunities to Mauritius, to enhance its economy.’
The representative from Comoros was also opposing the Indonesian proposal, and claimed its preference for the European one, which was improving traceability, transparency and biodegradability while protecting local economies, stating: ‘Comoros supports the EU proposal because it has an industry that must function. Small countries are also waiting for supplies brought by these large boats.’
According to Europêche Tuna Group, while other fishing fleets catch more than half of the total tuna catches in the IOTC area, the whole burden is placed on purse seiner fleets – 46 vessels which employ hundreds of crew, including from Africa and create employment in processing plants, shipyards and port facilities in the Indian Ocean.
‘No science to base the decision on, no consideration for local economies, and above all, no possibility given to the EU and other opposed developing countries to discuss and find a compromise. The proponents only agreed to meet once for less than two hours in three days,’ said Anne-France Mattlet, director of the Europêche Tuna Group, commenting on this decision.
‘Just a vote that imposed measures that will threaten the whole EU long-distance tuna fleet and the purse-seine dependent economies of the region. Can it be something else than a geopolitical issue? We are strongly asking the EU to challenge this decision, in line with the affected developing countries, to save the purse seine fleet and support its developing partner states. The contrary will hand over our tuna supply to non-EU fleets and foreign interests.’
The delegate from Seychelles echoed the Europeam position, commenting that, ‘a moratorium on one particular gear, without any scientific advice, is unfair and discriminatory.’
Europêche points out that the eleven proponents of the decision were driven by Indonesia, which objected the yellowfin tuna management plan and has increased its catches by more than 250% since 2014, while other nations voting to phase out FADs include those that have repeatedly blocked important management and conservation measures.
Anne-France Mattlet commented that the EU, Seychelles, Mauritius, Comoros and other contracting parties were not opposing the introduction of further FAD measures. These countries were requesting specific scientific advice, to be delivered in the next scientific committee in December 2023, for the IOTC to take a science-based decision in 2024.
Europêche Tuna Group has voiced its concern about the influence exerted by the International Pole and Line Foundation, a UK-based charity that represents tuna fisheries and supply-chain, in this decision, stating that the companies represented by this organisation are close to acquire a monopoly on certified (MSC) tuna in the UK market – which is also an attractive market for the EU purse seine fleet which is also certified.
According to Europêche, its representative, John Burton, has recently been the subject of a very accusatory declaration from Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) Tuna, an agreement of little Pacific Islands which controls most of the Western and Central Pacific tuna supply.
The UK, which is a contracting party to IOTC through the Chagos Islands, strongly expressed its support for the proposal from Indonesia during the meeting and asked for the strongest package possible, which goes against the interests of the EU fleet.
The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation has expressed its concern, describing the lack of compromise as an unwelcome precedent.
In a statement, ISSF expressed its concern over ‘the lack of a shared effort by all IOTC delegations in working together toward the realisation of scientific advice.’
‘The general breakdown of communication and negotiation that was evident at the IOTC Special Session sets an unwelcome precedent for future meetings and, ultimately, the sustainable use of Indian Ocean tuna fisheries,’ ISSF stated.
‘IOTC parties are beholden to the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, the core provisions of which require co-operation and consultation among all coastal States and States fishing on the high seas,’ said ISSF President Susan Jackson.
‘Both practices are critically important in managing highly migratory fish stocks like tuna, and both practices seemed to have been unfortunately lacking at this meeting. We therefore remain cautious in our assessment of the effectiveness of the new FAD measure, especially in helping rebuild the yellowfin tuna stock. And we urge all parties to recommit to working together for the long-term sustainable management of Indian Ocean resources.’