Oceana asks nations to stop overfishing tunas and sharks

Less than 15% of tuna and shark species are subject to management measures by any Regional Fisheries Management Organisation, whereas the rest are caught without control

Press Release Date: May 6, 2010

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: mmadina@oceana.org | tel.: Marta Madina

Oceana denounces that the management of tuna and sharks fisheries is insufficient. Today, the majority of commercially important tuna stocks are overfished, some to the point of commercial collapse, and several shark species caught in fisheries are classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This week in San Sebastian, Spain, the worlds’ five big Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) responsible for regulating tuna stocks will meet to discuss their failure in managing these species as well as sharks, and to agree on actions that would improve the status of these stocks.


Oceana, the international marine conservation organisation, carried out a review of management measures used by the five tuna-RFMOs. The results indicate that more than 100 species of fish, including tunas, bonitos, billfishes, marlins, pomfrets, sauries and pelagic sharks, are classified as “highly migratory”. Of these, 54 species are fished and their catches, totaling more than 5.7 million tonnes, are reported to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO).


However, Oceana’s review also confirmed that management of tuna and sharks is deficient. Only those species with the highest commercial value –less than 15% of the 54 species that the RFMOs are charged with managing- are subject to any legally binding management measures in any of the five RFMOs. The rest of the species are simply unmanaged and fishermen can catch as many individuals as they want, without any regulation or control.


“All highly migratory fish and shark species that are commercially caught in the world’s oceans, not just seven of them, and no matter if they are targeted species or by-catch, must be scientifically assessed and managed by the fishing nations that belong to the RFMOs”, explains Ricardo Aguilar, campaign director at Oceana in Europe. “A TAC, a Total Allowable Catch, must be set first, determining how much can be caught in total, and then other fisheries management measures should be implemented like time and area closures. When catch data or scientific assessments are missing, the fisheries must be limited by a precautionary TAC.”


The tuna-RFMOs, consisting of 76 member countries, have been established to manage fisheries for “highly migratory” fish stocks. That is, for fishes like tuna, swordfish and sharks that swim long distances in international waters, between different countries and in different oceans. International conventions and agreements, like the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement, require cooperative fisheries management for tunas and sharks by all countries whose nationals fish for them.


The biggest mistake that these countries have made is that they still do not apply the precautionary approach or use an ecosystem based approach for tunas and sharks. When management measures and TACs in the RFMOs are not completely missing, they are usually agreed and set much higher than the their own scientists propose”, explains Aguilar. “But, there is hope on the horizon, as the fishing nations have acknowledged their shortcomings and are meeting in San Sebastian to agree on concrete measures that would lead to healthy fish stocks” 


Oceana is urging the RFMO member countries meeting in San Sebastian to substantially improve the management of tunas and sharks by focusing on:


  • Urgently rebuilding overfished stocks of tunas and sharks. Immediately ending fisheries for endangered and Critically Endangered species.


  • Implementing the precautionary approach and using an ecosystem based approach to manage fisheries for all highly migratory tunas and sharks.


  • Always setting TACs according to the recommendations from RFMO scientist and never ignoring their advice. Setting precautionary TACs as fishing limits when scientific assessments are missing.


Oceana’s Opening Statement for Tuna and Shark Management in the RFMOs


Oceana TV programmes on Bluefin tuna and Sharks


Video footage and photographs about bluefin tuna and sharks available