U.S. proposes framework for rebuilding Pacific bluefin tuna

The United States is proposing to extend catch limits on Pacific bluefin tuna in the eastern Pacific for another two years, as scientists have recommended, at the upcoming Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) meeting.  The United States is also proposing a long-term framework for rebuilding the overfished species that spans the Pacific and many international boundaries.

The proposal  for consideration at the upcoming meeting at the end of June represents the latest step by the United States to manage fishing impacts on Pacific bluefin so the species can recover from its current low levels.

A May 2016 stock assessment conducted by the International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the North Pacific Ocean (ISC) found that Pacific bluefin spawning stock in 2014 amounted to just 2.6 percent of what it would be without fishing. The ISC is expected to finalize the stock assessment at its upcoming July meeting.

In 2014, the IATTC reduced overall catch in the eastern Pacific Ocean by 40 percent, and the IATTC’s scientific staff recommended extending that limit for another two years, which the U.S. proposal would do.  The U.S. proposal emphasizes that its measures are “an interim step towards assuring sustainability of the Pacific bluefin tuna resource, consistent with the precautionary approach.”

Bluefin tuna are highly migratory, often traveling thousands of miles throughout the Pacific. They spawn in waters in the western Pacific off Japan and some juveniles migrate to the eastern Pacific off Mexico and the United States. Japan and Mexico harvest the most Pacific bluefin; the U.S. catch amounts to less than 2 percent of all commercial catches.

“This is an international issue and we all need to do our part to build bluefin populations back up,” said Barry Thom, Deputy Regional Administrator of NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region and NOAA’s U.S. Commissioner to the IATTC. “By continuing to control fishing impacts and outlining a positive path in the long-term, the science tells us that we’ll see important improvements.”

The United States position calls for bringing Pacific bluefin spawning stock back to at least 20 percent of what it would be without fishing by 2030, a nearly 10-fold increase from today. Research shows that level would support sustainable bluefin numbers and provide for well-managed fishing.

Since more than 80 percent of the fishing impacts on the spawning stock of Pacific bluefin occur in fisheries managed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the U.S. proposal urges that the WCPFC also take action to reduce impacts on spawning bluefin.

In 2014 the WCPFC adopted a measure reducing total fishing effort on Pacific bluefin tuna, including juveniles, to 50 percent of average levels observed in 2002-2004. In 2015, the WCPFC added a requirement to develop an emergency rule that would take effect when recruitment falls below a certain critical threshold. The United States will work with WCPFC members in advance of their meeting in December 2016 to promote a long-term rebuilding plan.

See the Southwest Fisheries Science Center website for further information including frequently asked questions on the recent stock assessment.