Role of Science in the Management of Tunas by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission: Limitations to Sustainability
Shauna J. Oh
The role of regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), as the key delivery mechanism for sustainable management of transboundary fish stocks, such as tuna, has been recognized in international fisheries management (Lodge 2005). The Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) is one of five RFMOs responsible for the conservation and management of the world’s tuna resources. As the oldest of the tuna RFMOs, the convention that created this commission in 1949 mandates that the populations of tunas, tuna-like fishes, and other kinds of fish taken by tuna fishing vessels in the eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO) be maintained at levels of abundance that can support maximum sustainable yields. The convention also provides for a program of scientific investigation as the basis for management of the tuna fisheries.
That responsible fisheries policy requires a sound scientific basis has been a mantra in international fisheries management and codified in multiple international fisheries instruments. The relevant instruments that apply to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission include the United Nations (UN) agreement for the implementation of the provisions of the United Nations convention on the law of the sea 1982 relating to the conservation and management of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks (also known as the UN fish stocks agreement), which sets out principles for the conservation and management of those fish stocks and establishes that such management must be based on the best available scientific information (United Nations 1995). It specifies the functions of science for RFMOs and the need for these arrangements in the collection and analysis of scientific data, evaluation of scientific advice, cooperation in scientific research, and dissemination of information for target and nontarget species (United Nations 1995). Even before the formalization of these scientific functions in the UN fish stocks agreement, the IATTC has required, through the mandates of the original convention, high quality and independent scientific advice to ensure that the tuna resources of the EPO are managed sustainably. As one of the former directors of the IATTC once pointed out, “foremost of the work for this [c]ommission is the imperative to provide a scientific basis for the management of tuna fisheries” (Allen 2001).