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Unloading of tuna in the port of Abidjan, in Ivory Coast | FAO / Sia Kambou

Eight of the 13 major tuna stocks are recovering

WORLDWIDE
Friday, January 31, 2020, 09:00 (GMT + 9)

Every year, nearly 6 million tonnes of tuna species are fished worldwide, but overexploitation has declined thanks to a joint program of scientists and industry leaders. The annual value of the business activity is around USD 12 billion annually.

Between 2014 to 2019, the number of major tuna stocks experiencing overfishing went down from 13 to 5. This means eight fish stocks are now being rebuilt to reach a healthy level, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reported on Wednesday.

This good news has been achieved within the five-year framework of the Marine Areas Program beyond the national jurisdiction, also known as Common Oceans, launched by this Organization and funded with USD 50 million by the Global Environment Facility.

Sustainable and transparent harvest strategies are rebuilding tuna stocks to reach healthy levels © ISSF/Nando Rivera/FAO

The Common Oceans Program brought together scientists and fisheries managers to develop sustainable and transparent tuna capture strategies and processes, based on computer simulation exercises. This helped establish and apply more sustainable tuna catch limits.

Every year almost six million tons of tuna species are fished in the world. The annual value of this business is almost USD 12 billion. The high demand, combined with the excessive number of fishing vessels, meant that tuna stocks were under immense pressure.

Common Oceans Program

The Common Oceans Program focuses on areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) - also called international waters - that cover 40 percent of the earth and comprise nearly 95 percent of the oceans' volume.

"Keeping international waters healthy and preserving their rich biodiversity have long been a challenge for these marine areas that do not fall under the responsibility of any one country," said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO's Deputy Director-General, Climate and Natural Resources.

"The Program has brought together a broad and unique partnership to tackle this challenge by promoting the sustainable management of fishery resources and ecosystem-based practices, with some outstanding results. We hope to expand this initiative to continue safeguarding our marine biodiversity and contributing to the global goals and aspirations of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework," added Semedo.

Bycatch reduction


In addition to curbing tuna overfishing, the Program has had other achievements thanks to the adjustments to fishing gear - such as placing the gillnets two metres deeper - as well as training in how to protect threatened species have helped save marine mammals, mainly dolphins and sea turtles.

For example, between 2013 to 2018, the mortality rate of marine mammals caught by Pakistani gillnet fisheries in the northern Arabian sea was reduced by 98 percent - from 12,000 in 2013 to less than 200 in 2018.

Ocean-friendly FAD-designs using biodegradable materials are reducing the amounts of plastic at sea © ISSF/FAO

Bycatch reduction was also made possible thanks to an uptake in non-entangling and ocean-friendly fish aggregating devices - so-called FADs - that are used to attract fish.

Prior to the Program, there were no FAD-guidelines in place for the Atlantic, Indian, Eastern and Pacific or Western & Central Pacific Oceans. In 2019, all of them had FAD-guidelines.

The Program developed and tested non-entangling and ocean-friendly FAD-designs, and carried out workshops with over 2,500 fishers from 22 countries about bycatch mitigation techniques.

To bring down further plastic pollution at sea, studies are ongoing on the use of biodegradable materials for FADs.

New protected areas

A third achievement of the Common Oceans Program has been to help create 18 protected areas between 2014 and 2019 to preserve vulnerable marine ecosystems that house deep-sea species such as corals and sponges. To this end, fishing has been closed in these areas.

Two of the sites are located in the Pacific Ocean, five in the southern Indian Ocean, one in the southern Pacific, seven in international waters around Antarctica and three in the Mediterranean.

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