EU abandons promises to plunder Indian Ocean’s overfished tuna stocks

French fisheries may be exposed in UK ‘tit-for-tat’ says expert

The EU is “plundering” the Indian Ocean with controversial fishing techniques despite its promises to protect biodiversity across the world. The bloc, a prominent actor in eight regional fisheries management organisations worldwide, has been accused of using fish-aggregating devices as well as pressuring coastal states in order to secure privileged access to regional fishery management organisations.

The EU Commission denied the claims, saying the bloc is not suppressing Global South countries or other actors for more favourable access.

It also previously said that it would stop using fish-aggregating devices if the science backed up a ban, adding that “it is essential that science is the backbone” of decision-making at regulatory bodies.

In February, a proposal by Indonesia and 10 other coastal states on the Indian Ocean, including India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, for a 72-day ban on FADs – harmful fish aggregating devices – was adopted by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.

But earlier this month, the EU , the largest harvester of tropical tuna in the region, rejected the measure.

Jess Rattle, the head of investigations at the Blue Marine Foundation, said the move is in stark contradiction to the bloc’s promises to protect biodiversity.

She said: “The EU has entirely abandoned this sentiment in favour of plundering the Indian Ocean’s already overfished stocks, safe in the knowledge that, once all the fish are gone, its highly developed fleet can simply move to another ocean, unlike the many coastal states left behind with nothing.”

Ryan Orgera, the global director of Accountability.Fish, an organisation that calls for greater awareness in fishery management said that’s the result of the makeup of regulatory bodies, made up mostly of industrial fishers.

He said: “We seek to reduce the power of industrial fishers in regional fisheries and balance out the space with market players and non-governmental organisations.”

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Regulations for the high seas — the world’s deep oceans — and the marine life that lives there have for a long time been patchwork and it’s been hard to reach a global consensus on how best to protect them.

Then last month, the long-awaited worldwide framework to protect the high seas was finally approved.

The UN high seas treaty will create a new body to manage conservation of ocean life globally and establish marine protected areas in the world’s oceans.

But even with the treaty, Orgera said: “If industrial fishers are given a green light by the fisheries management organisations to overfish for, say five years, the effects on the oceans could become irreversible.”

A coalition of conservationists and market players like Accountability.Fish, the Ocean Foundation, the Global Tuna Alliance and others have endorsed more open access to fisheries organisations’ proceedings so that more members of the public can participate in conservation efforts.

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The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation — the parent body of regional fisheries management organisations — said it “supports and promotes transparency in fisheries and notes that transparency in ocean governance is becoming a greater priority in global and regional processes.”

For local and non-commercial fishers who rely on well-managed fish stocks, it’s unclear if more open measures will make a difference.

The concern among environmentalists and smaller-scale fishers is that large fleets are permitted by fishery organisations to use practices that are only accessible to vessels big enough to go far into the open ocean, depleting fish stocks for those more confined to the coasts or forcing them to travel into choppy, more dangerous waters their smaller boats aren’t fit for.

Many industrial fishing fleets rely on a highly-effective scooping method called purse seining — a two-kilometre-long (1.2-mile) net positioned around schools of fish by a smaller support vessel, explained Frederic Manach, a marine scientist with the ocean conservation group Bloom. “The seine is then closed from below with a sliding system, allowing the entire school to be caught” which makes it difficult to sustain populations, he said.

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