Saving Tuna

by cmajor_1 on November 25, 2016 - 5:11pm

According to an article about the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meeting in Portugal, Canada has made “the right decision” over fishing quotas. The ICCAT is charged with the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and its adjacent seas. This task is carried out by compiling fishery statistics from ICCAT members and from all who fish these species in the Atlantic Ocean as well as by coordinating research and stock assessments, developing scientific-based management advice, and providing mechanisms for agreement on management measures.

Historically, fishery management has seen many failures through the use of command and control management mechanisms. Command and control is a centralized scientific process that manages resource sectors, focuses on clearly defined goals, and utilizes the technical gathering of data to manage these goals. In terms of tuna, managers tend to attribute their population fluctuations to fishing alone in attempts to make nature more predictable and reliable for human needs. Typically, total allowable catch is used to inform fishing quotas and is determined according to scientific advice on stock status (European Commission). This assumes a naturally stable population without fishing, ignoring the social and ecological context of fish and fisheries in order to treat them industrially. Thus, in 2009, stocks were at a record low and in 2010, quotas were again reduced. This lack of progress despite decreases in quotas illustrates the unpredictability of tuna stocks and the limitations posed by a management system that looks at only the industrial dimension of fisheries when trying to determine a solution.  

Many of ICCAT’s management tools reflect a command and control model with its emphasis on scientific analysis and assessments of stocks. But, recent decisions at its latest meeting over quotas has brought hope that the impact of fishing on tuna stocks isn’t the ICCAT’s only indicator, hinting that knowledge of the downfalls of simplification of ecological processes is slowly expanding.

According to the article, recent spikes in the world’s tuna populations had created prior concern over the outcome of this meeting. Many believe that tuna stocks are still far too vulnerable to accommodate an increase in the quota. Luckily, the ICCAT seemed to agree. Abundance of tuna in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is largely responsible for the spike in the world’s tuna stock (Mason as read in his article on CBC). Acknowledging this effect, the ICCAT has identified the spike as unreflective of natural biological population and has accounted for it in their assessment. In this way, the ICCAT acknowledges the importance of ecology in tuna population fluctuations by not assuming that an increase in global tuna populations means recovery of tuna stocks. As well, this is a step toward negating the idea that this system is naturally stable and hints at slow realization of the pitfalls of trying to simplify complex natural processes to make them more predictable and reliable for efficient human economic gain. 
            Further, according to the article, the “ICCAT committed to a 20-year rebuilding plan, and . . . (are) only about half of where the stock needs to be, so there's still a lot of work to be done in order to recover the stock." Thus, Canadian officials’ agreement with the ICCAT’s call supports the rebuilding plan and the need for more in depth investigations that go further than creating quotas based solely on global tuna populations. While command and control mechanisms have lead to many management failures in the past, many industries will not easily give up this method of management. Thus, for now, changes that avoid simplification could help to avoid serious problems.

News Article

Yarr, K. (2016, November 22). Canada's tuna conservation position pleases environmental group - Prince Edward Island - CBC News. Retrieved November 24, 2016, from


Supplementary References


Mason, Alex. (2016, October 11). Conservationists fear surplus of Atlantic bluefin tuna does not equate to healthy stock. CBC – The Current. Retrieved November 24, 2016, from


ICCAT Introduction. (n.a.) ICCAT. Retrieved November 24, 2016, from


TACs and quotas.(n.a). European Commission. Retrieved November 24, 2016, from 


Hi cmajor_1,

I was interested in reading your blog "Saving Tuna" after learning about this is one of my other courses. I found it interesting learning about the management of the tuna industry in a different context. I agree with your statement that "changes that avoid simplification will help to avoid serious problems". After learning about quotas and stocks in my other course, this was a very important point. By avoiding simplification, the factors that may result in the over-exploitation of tuna population will continue to be taken into account rather than be ignored. By doing so, there is less worry about missing an important factor that may contribute to low population levels.

I am also interested to know why you think industries will have a difficult time giving up the command and control management strategy. In what way does it benefit them? I am glad to hear that the ICCAT did not immediately assume that the recovery of the population meant there should be increases in fishing quotas. Do you think this might be a predictor of better management practices in the future?