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There are few, if any, cases in international tuna fisheries for which measures to limit fleet capacity have been successfully implemented, even though there have been expressions of concern about growing fleet capacity by industry, nations and international fisheries organizations. The IATTC and ICCAT have begun the process of attempting to implement measures to control fishing capacity of all or some of the tuna fleets operating in their respective convention waters.

6.1 International Fisheries Organization Initiatives

In the case of ICCAT, two resolutions to limit fleet size have been approved: 1) Parties, non-parties, and fishing entities fishing for northern albacore agreed that from 1999 onward, they would limit the fishing capacity of their vessels (i.e. number of vessels) to the amount corresponding to that of the vessels that operated in the 1993-1995 period. They agreed also to submit a list of vessels that operated under their flags in the northern albacore fishery during 1993-1995, and each year thereafter. The primary purpose of submitting these lists was to ensure compliance with the agreement. 2) A similar agreement, but for bigeye, and based on 1991 and 1992 vessel numbers, limiting the number of fishing vessels in excess of 24 meters in length, applies throughout the Convention waters of ICCAT. As is the case for albacore, each nation must submit a list of vessels and a basis for the list, in order to ensure compliance with the agreement. Although the limitation applies to the number of vessels these numbers are to be associated with a limitation of Gross Registered Tonnage in order not to increase total fishing capacity. The member governments of ICCAT also passed a resolution in 1999, endorsing the FAO International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity.

In 1998, the members of IATTC agreed to limit the carrying capacity of purse-seine vessels operating in the EPO during 1999. Each of 13 nations with purse-seine vessels fishing in the region for tunas was assigned a carrying capacity limit. The limit established for each state took into account various factors, including the catches of national fleets during the 1985-1998 period, the amount of catch historically taken within the zones where each state exercises sovereignty or national jurisdiction, the landings of tuna in each nation, the contribution of each state to the IATTC conservation programme, including the reduction of dolphin mortality, and other factors. The agreement also acknowledged and affirmed the rights of several states without vessels currently fishing in the EPO, but with a longstanding and significant interest in the EPO tuna fishery, to develop their own tuna fishing industries. The limits for 1999 that were assigned to each state are shown in Table 3. With the exception of that for Costa Rica, all country quotas listed in the table were approximately equivalent to the actual fleets operating during 1998.

Costa Rica was assigned a limit on the basis of its coastal adjacency, the tuna processing facilities located in Costa Rica, its long involvement in the conservation programmes for tunas in the EPO, its contributions as a founding member of the IATTC, and its intention to acquire a fleet of tuna vessels. Since the passage of the IATTC resolution, Guatemala, exercising “its legitimate rights under international law” declared a carrying capacity quota of about 10 000 tonnes. This capacity was filled by vessels that transferred their registries from the country whose flag they were flying prior to registry in Guatemala. Once the resolution to limit carrying capacity was approved by the member governments of IATTC, several coastal and non-coastal states without tuna fleets began negotiations within the Commission to have capacity limitation quotas assigned to them and other member states of the organization with small quota limitations sought to have them increased to allow their fleets to grow.

Scientists at the IATTC have stated that a total fleet carrying capacity of about 130 000 tonnes would be adequate to harvest the current catch levels in the area. (The DEA results support this statement). At the time the 1998 resolution was approved, the fleet carrying capacity was about 138 000 tonnes. The resolution set a carrying capacity limit of 158 837 tonnes, which included allowances for some increases. The fleet carrying capacity in the eastern Pacific is currently near 180 000 tonnes, and there are indications that more vessels will be coming into the fishery, resulting in an even higher carrying capacity. The problem facing the Commission is how to stop fleet growth over the short term and reduce fleet size over the long term. Though initially some agreement was reached to limit fleet size, this agreement was for 1999 only, and the governments were unable to extend the resolution to 2000 or beyond (65th Meeting of IATTC, October 4-11, 1999, Background Paper 1).

The CCSBFT, which has responsibility for southern bluefin tuna, sets annual catch limits that are partitioned among the three contracting governments, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand. The governments of these states can, if they choose, limit the numbers of their vessels that participate in the fishery.

Table 3: Fleet limits set by IATTC for the 1999 fishing year (IATCC, 1998)

Carrying Capacity (mt)


1 877


6 608

Costa Rica

6 000


32 203

El Salvador

1 700




49 500


2 000


3 500


7 885

United States

8 969


12 121


25 975

In the case of IOTC, there are no measures to limit carrying capacity, but its members have recognized that such measures are necessary, and have undertaken “to adopt concerted actions to limit the fishing capacity of the fleet of large-scale vessels fishing for tropical tunas in the IOTC area of competence”. As a first step the Scientific Committee of IOTC was asked to make recommendations on the best estimate of the optimum capacity of the fishing fleet, which will permit the sustainable exploitation of tropical tunas; they noted, however, that due to lack of technical information they were unable to make such recommendations.

6.2 National Initiatives

Prior to any international efforts to limit fleet carrying capacity in tuna fisheries, there had been efforts by some states to limit capacity or number of fishing vessels within their own national fleets. Most notably, Japan, during the 1960s and 1970s, limited the number of high-seas longline vessels allowed to fish for tuna under its flag. This was done because a growing fleet of Japanese longline vessels was reducing the catches per vessel and consequent per-vessel earnings. The programme was not very successful because the excess capacity transferred from Japan to other countries and because new vessels were constructed for nations other than Japan (Keen, 1973). This, in a large way, is how the Taiwanese and Korean longline fleets got their start.

6.3 Industry Initiatives

6.3.1 The longline industry

The problem of too much longline capacity is once again a serious one confronting not only the Japanese tuna-fishing industry, but those of other nations as well. Because of the high prices paid for sashimi - grade fish in the Japanese market and the increasing demand for raw material, the longline fleets of several countries have grown rapidly, and these fleets are targeting the Japanese market. Added to this is the fact that increased FAD fishing by purse-seine vessels worldwide has reduced the availability of fish to the longline fishery, which in some cases had already been reduced by too much longline effort. This increased FAD fishing has caused concern over the health of the stocks of tuna and other types of fish supporting the longline fisheries of Japan, and has apparently created economic hardship for the longline fleets of Japan and other nations. Considering these facts, and in keeping with the FAO Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity, the Japanese longline industry has undertaken action to reduce the size of its large-scale tuna longline fleet by about 20%. It has also enlisted the cooperation of other nations, notably Taiwan, Province of China, with large-scale longline fleets to reduce the size of their fleets correspondingly. Japan has already targeted about 130 vessels for removal from the fishery. Taiwan, Province of China has agreed to limit its fleet to 600 vessels, and will require that Taiwanese owned vessels that are now under flags of convenience fly the Taiwanese flag. In order to keep within the 600-vessel limit, some of these recalled vessels would be scrapped. The owners of vessels removed from the fishery, in both Japan and Taiwan, Province of China, will be compensated for their vessels. This time the Japanese are more likely to be successful because the primary target for sashimi grade longline-caught fish is the Japanese market, and the nations which do not cooperate in the programme to reduce longline fishing capacity could lose access to that market. An organization made up of industry representatives, the Organization for Promotion of Responsible Tuna Fisheries (OPRTF), has been established to track tuna coming into the Japanese market to ensure that it is from cooperating nations, and to assist in the reimbursement of Japanese and Taiwanese fishermen for the costs of implementation of the programme. Other longline fishing nations are considering adhering to this organization and cooperating in the programmes to reduce fleet size.

6.3.2 The purse-seine industry

A similar industry initiative by the purse-seine vessel owners of the world was undertaken in late 2000 and early 2001. The initiative was to limit the production of skipjack tuna taken by purse-seine vessels, and was motivated by plummeting raw material prices caused by excess fleet capacity and consequent overproduction of tuna. An industry organization, the World Tuna Purse Seine Organization (WPTO), was created, and it is working to resolve the problems of excess fishing capacity and tuna production. A more detailed discussion of the WPTO and its objectives and programmes will be presented later in this report.

Efforts to limit the capacity of tuna fleets have not been very successful so far, on either an international or national level, but the current industry programme to reduce longline fleets, and the initiative of purse seine vessel owners to limit fishing effort, are promising and can set an interesting precedent for formulating action plans to resolve the capacity problems facing tuna fisheries. Examining these experiences, and their successes and failures, provides insight into the important issues that must be resolved, and that will be discussed below respecting the implementation of successful programmes. The crux of the problem in these international fisheries seems to be centered on the issue of allocation of catch (fleets) among participants, i.e., who gets what share of what is available.

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