The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) has become the first regional fishery management organization (RFMO) to adopt electronic monitoring (EM) standards. The decision — made during the tuna RFMO’s 27th Session held May 8-12 in Mauritius — marks a significant step forward in promoting responsible and data-driven fisheries management in the Indian Ocean.
RFMOs are tasked with managing commercial fishing activities in over 95% of the world’s oceans. To ensure that fishing is sustainable, RFMOs need to closely monitor catch and vessel activities. This effort can be challenging when fishing vessels operate in remote areas for extended periods of time, beyond the reach and oversight of regulatory authorities. Electronic monitoring (EM) programs offer a way to complement, or substitute, human observer coverage and expand independent monitoring of fleets. Further, EM can enhance fisheries management by fostering greater transparency and accountability for regulatory authorities, fishers, retailers, and other stakeholders involved in the seafood supply chain.
The IOTC decision to adopt electronic monitoring standards for its fisheries comes at a critical time for the world’s oceans, particularly for Indian Ocean tuna fisheries valued at US$8.6 billion. Currently, only 5% human observer coverage is required for IOTC’s fisheries, a rate that has proven insufficient to accurately collect catch, bycatch, and other scientific data needed for management decisions. Further, countries have already noted the difficulties of meeting this requirement given the limited space onboard to house human observers and related cost constraints — a situation that the global COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated. Following the multi-year developments to update the Regional Observer Scheme Program and the work by IOTC’s ad-hoc Working Group on the development Electronic Monitoring Standards (WGEMS), the IOTC has adopted their EM Program Standards and EM Data Standards through Resolution 23/08, which will foster increased monitoring of its fisheries.
The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission should be commended for taking this important step towards greater monitoring of its fisheries. In the coming years, the Commission and its members should focus on ensuring that the EM program is effectively implemented and, more importantly, increase observer coverage to at least 20% — the level recommended by scientists — in all its fisheries, with the aspiration to incrementally reach 100% coverage of industrial fisheries.
By adopting EM standards for its fisheries, the IOTC has set an example for other RFMOs to follow. Their action will hopefully inspire more countries and organizations to embrace innovative technologies to independently monitor fisheries and help safeguard our oceans and marine resources for future generations.
Hilario Murua is a senior researcher with the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) and chair of the ad-hoc IOTC Working Group on the development of Electronic Monitoring Standards.
Image of tuna seiner courtesy of ISSF.