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Turtle Talk at the IOTC Scientific Committee Meeting

Source: Douglas Hykle, IOSEA Coordinator


The Seychelles-based Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) is the Regional Fisheries Management Organization of greatest relevance to the implementation of IOSEA objectives in the Indian Ocean. There is a high degree of overlap between the memberships of the two organisations. Twenty-two IOTC Contracting Parties and Cooperating non-contracting Parties (CPCs) are also signatories to the IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU: Australia, Comoros, Eritrea, France, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Seychelles, South Africa* (Cooperating Non-Contracting Party), Thailand, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania, Yemen. Another four IOTC member States (China, Japan, Republic of Korea, and Sudan) have marine turtles and/or Indian Ocean fishing interests of concern to IOSEA.

The IOTC’s primary advisory body is a Scientific Committee that meets annually and which, in turn, receives inputs from numerous subsidiary bodies known as Working Parties. These include one group of direct relevance to IOSEA -- the Working Party on Ecosystems and Bycatch (WPEB) – as well as a number of other groups of peripheral interest.

The Scientific Committee held its 15th Session in the Seychelles from 10-15 December 2012. The following report describes the value of the meeting to IOSEA, the ongoing work of the Scientific Committee and several of its Working Parties, areas of collaboration between IOTC and IOSEA, as well as other information of interest. The full report of the 15th Scientific Meeting can be downloaded from  the IOTC website.  The recommendations of the Scientific Committee will be forwarded to the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission for consideration and possible endorsement at its next meeting, which will be held in Maputo, Mozambique, in May 2013.

The Committee is the principle forum where national reports from IOTC member States are reviewed. While many concerns have been expressed about the quality and completeness of the reports submitted, they are or could be an extremely valuable source of information of which the IOSEA constituency is probably not well aware. For example, the national reports are meant to describe fishing effort (e.g. in terms of vessel numbers, trends and spatial distribution) for various fisheries that are known to interact with marine turtles – namely longlines, purse seines and gillnets. The reports should also provide details of national observer programmes and availability of observer and logbook data; as well as information on turtle bycatch and relevant bycatch mitigation measures.

Most of the concerns expressed about reporting at the latest Scientific Committee meeting are not new. Among those mentioned: fragmented data collection and management systems; the need to improve the standard of data collection; inadequate reporting of catch and effort data as per IOTC requirements (in terms of spatial distribution of catch and effort); incomplete/delayed processing of logbook and observer data; and in some cases, a failure of some members to provide any national report (e.g. Eritrea, Pakistan, Tanzania, Yemen).

With regard to data on marine turtle bycatch, in particular, the Scientific Committee noted that “the lack of data from most CPCs on interactions and mortalities of marine turtles in the Indian Ocean is a substantial concern, resulting in an inability of the WPEB to estimate levels of marine turtle bycatch. There is an urgent need to quantify the effects of fisheries for tuna and tuna-like species in the Indian Ocean on marine turtle species, and it is clear that little progress on obtaining and reporting data on interactions with marine turtles has been made. This data is necessary to allow the IOTC to respond and manage the adverse effects on marine turtles, and other bycatch species.”

Notwithstanding these deficiencies identified by the Scientific Committee, the reports that have been submitted to IOTC can be mined for useful information that may contribute to our knowledge of where fishery-turtle interactions are more or less likely to occur, and where improvements (in data collection, mitigation efforts etc) should be emphasised. To that end, the IOSEA Secretariat intends to prepare its own analysis of the reports submitted to IOTC, from a marine turtle perspective, and to compare the information with that which IOSEA Signatory States have been submitted in their reports to IOSEA.

* * * * *

The IOTC Scientific Committee reviewed information available on three main fisheries in the Indian Ocean – gillnet, longline, and purse seine – and made a number of recommendations to the Commission with regard to the use and design of gear, as well as data collection.

Gillnet fisheries

Gillnet fisheries in the Indian Ocean are estimated to land a remarkable 500,000 t of tuna and tuna-like species each year. The Committee noted that “gillnet fisheries are expanding rapidly in the Indian Ocean, with gillnets often being longer than 2.5 km in contravention with UN and IOTC Resolutions, and that their use is considered to have a substantial impact on marine ecosystems.”  A majority of the Scientific Committee “recommended that the IOTC freeze catch and effort by gillnet fisheries in the Indian Ocean in the near future, until sufficient information has been gathered to determine the impact of gillnet fleets on IOTC stocks and bycatch species caught by gillnet fisheries targeting tuna and tuna-like species”, but it was acknowledged that the implementation of any such measure would be difficult.

The Scientific Committee concluded that “the absence of data for marine turtles on effort, spatial deployment and bycatch in the IOTC area of competence makes any recommendation regarding mitigation measures for this gear premature. Improvements in data collection and reporting of marine turtle interactions with gillnets, and research on the effect of gear types (i.e. net construction and colour, mesh size and soak times) are necessary.”

Of considerable interest to IOSEA, the Scientific Committee recommended that the Commission “consider allocating funds to support a regional review of the data available for gillnet fleets operating in the Indian Ocean. The scientists from all CPCs having gillnet fleets in the Indian Ocean should provide at the next [September 2013] session of the WPEB, a report summarising the known information on bycatch in their gillnet fisheries, including sharks, marine turtles and marine mammals, with estimates of their likely order of magnitude where more detailed data are not available.”

Furthermore, the Committee recommended that “the Commission allocate funds to carry out training for CPCs having gillnet fleets on species identification, bycatch mitigation and data collection methods and also to identify other potential sources of assistance to carry out such activities.” As mentioned above, it will not be known until May 2013 whether any of these recommendations will be formally adopted by the Commission.

Longline fisheries

Information on turtle bycatch in the longline fishery suffers from a comparable degree of data deficiency, with the Scientific Committee concluding that “current information suggests inconsistent spatial catches (i.e. high catches in few sets) and by gear/fishery”. As such the Committee was not in a position to make any definitive recommendations about bycatch mitigation, beyond existing calls for IOTC members to support further research into the effectiveness of circle hooks as part of a multiple species approach, and to encourage fishers to release live animals after careful dehooking/disentangling/line cutting (in accordance with handling guidelines in the IOTC marine turtle identification cards).

The Committee also addressed a technical omission identified in IOTC Resolution 12/03 on the recording of catch and effort by fishing vessels in the IOTC area of competence, which in its present form does not stipulate that numbers of by-caught marine turtles should be recorded in logbooks (as is mandatory for purse seine and gillnet fisheries). It therefore recommended that marine turtles, as a group, be added to the list of species to be duly recorded. While this proposed amendment to Resolution 12/03 is unlikely to usher in a new era of bountiful data on turtle bycatch in longline fisheries, correction of this omission is a necessary precursor to that eventuality.

Purse seine fisheries

The IOTC Scientific Committee and the WPEB have discussed for a number of years possible improvements to the design of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) that are deployed by purse seiners. These man-made floating objects, drifting or anchored, are built for the purpose of fishing pelagic fishes, but are also known to result in bycatch of sharks and marine turtles. Some fishers are already using drifting FADs with designs aimed at reducing the entanglement of marine animals; and it is acknowledged that the solution to this particular bycatch problem is relatively clear and simple.

In keeping with a request made to the Scientific Committee in IOTC Resolution 12/04 on marine turtles, to “develop improved FAD designs to reduce the incidence of entanglement of marine turtles, including the use of biodegradable materials”, the Scientific Committee agreed to recommend to the Commission that:

“Only non-entangling FADs, both drifting and anchored, should be designed and deployed,
based on the following three basic principles: (1) The surface structure of the FAD should not be covered, or only covered with non-meshed material; (2) If a sub-surface component is used, it should not be made from netting but from non-meshed materials such as ropes or canvas sheets; and (3) To reduce the amount of synthetic marine debris, the use of natural or biodegradable materials (such as Hessian canvas, hemp ropes, etc.) for drifting FADs should be promoted.”

If endorsed by the Commission, these recommendations will presumably be incorporated in a further revision of IOTC Resolution 12/04. Thereafter, it remains to be seen whether CPCs promote and monitor their implementation, and whether most fishers actually take them up as a routine practice. One can reasonably conclude that while it may take a number of years for real progress to be observed (in terms of widespread use of FADs that effectively reduce bycatch of non-target species), these concrete recommendations are a step in the right direction.

Data and reporting requirements

The Scientific Committee made a number of recommendations of a technical nature aimed at addressing known deficiencies in data and reporting requirements. One was directed at strengthening the same Resolution 12/04 on marine turtles which, in its present form, does not require CPC reporting of marine turtle bycatch to the level of species. The Committee recommended that marine turtles caught in fisheries within the IOTC area of competence be recorded and reported at the species level (which will require a further tweaking of Resolution 12/04).

The Committee also recommended that IOTC Resolution 10/02 on mandatory statistical requirements for CPCs be revised to include explicit mention of marine turtles, with reporting requirements to be consistent with those of Resolution 12/04.

Implementation of the IOTC Regional Observer Scheme

The Scientific Committee meeting provided an opportunity to review implementation of the IOTC Regional Observer Scheme (ROS), which formally commenced on 1 July 2010 as a consequence of a series of IOTC resolutions. With a primary focus on monitoring catch of tuna and tuna-like species, the programme could also be an important source of data (e.g. sex and species composition, etc.) on marine turtles caught incidentally in some fisheries.

The Committee expressed strong concern regarding the low level of reporting to the IOTC Secretariat of both the observer trip reports (a total of 38 reports from only 7 CPCs, covering the years 2010-2012) and the list of accredited observers (submitted by only 12 CPCs). It noted that in 2011, “it was estimated from the reports and effort data available, that only two CPCs have achieved the minimum 5% observer coverage required in Resolution 11/04”.

Going forward, the Scientific Committee recognised that there is scope for further collaboration between IOTC and IOSEA in the development of regional standards covering data collection, data exchange and training. Relevant advice from IOSEA could be valuable as IOTC member States begin to implement the Regional Observer Scheme in the coming years. Hence, the Committee recommended that the Chair of the IOTC Working Party on Data Collection and Statistics (WPDCS) work with the IOSEA MoU Secretariat to revise the observer data collection forms and observer reporting template as appropriate, consistent with the recording and reporting requirements of IOTC Resolutions.

This will help to ensure that the IOTC has the means to collect quantitative and qualitative data on marine turtle bycatch that will be useful also for IOSEA purposes. The Committee also encouraged CPCs to avail themselves of IOSEA expertise and facilities to train observers and crew to increase post-release survival rates of marine turtles.

Ecological Risk Assessment

As far as marine turtles are concerned, one of the most important papers presented to the meeting was document IOTC–2012–SC15–INF09 Rev_1, which provided the results of a preliminary Ecological Risk Assessment (ERA) and Productivity Susceptibility Analysis (PSA) of marine turtle populations overlapping with IOTC fisheries. The study, which was commissioned by IOTC and jointly funded with IOSEA, was conducted by a team of scientists led by Dr. Ronel Nel of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Dr Nel also served as Chair of the IOSEA Western Indian Ocean Marine Turtle Task Force until December 2012.

The main conclusions and full text of the preliminary ERA will be presented on the IOSEA website separately, in due course. In its own considerations, the Scientific Committee noted that the analyses were based on an incomplete dataset (provided by Australia, European Union, France and its overseas territories, Portugal and South Africa), supplemented by bibliographic sources. The study identified several sources of uncertainties in the data (e.g. species identification, post-release survival, gillnet fishing effort and interactions with marine turtles, and insufficient size data).

The Scientific Committee's report recognised the quality of the work undertaken and the highly valuable information provided by this ERA, but agreed that the assessment would benefit greatly from the inclusion of complete data from more IOTC fleets. To that end, the Scientific Committee recommended that all IOTC CPCs contact Dr Nel in order to refine and complete the analysis before the next WPEB meeting (September 2013). It also recommended that the IOTC Secretariat include an additional 20 day consultancy in the 2013 budget for the Commission‘s consideration, so that the Ecological Risk Assessment for marine turtles may be continued and that new information received may be incorporated. For its part, the IOSEA Secretariat will be examining ways of contributing to the production of a more comprehensive, ongoing assessment in the coming years.

Other reports of interest to IOSEA

The meeting was informed of two observer projects currently being implemented by WWF in Pakistan, apparently funded by the Australian Government (from 2010-2013 and 2012-2014 respectively), to monitor bycatch levels and interactions with cetaceans in the gillnet fishery. The IOSEA Secretariat looks forward to receiving more information on this valuable work, of which it was unaware. According to the Scientific Committee report, “while these projects are aimed at assessing the impacts of gillnet fishing on cetaceans, data is also being collected on all catch, including tuna, finfish, sharks and marine turtles. The projects are province-specific and the aim is for 40% fleet coverage and use both beach and vessel surveys for data collection. The projects have strong community engagement through workshops, awareness campaigns and the establishment community conservation groups. Action plans will also be developed. A third project on tuna catch monitoring in the Pakistan Miani Hor Marine Protected Area, funded by the WWF Smart Fishing Initiative, will also include an element on gillnet bycatch.”

Ongoing IOTC – IOSEA collaboration

The Scientific Committee meeting highlighted a number of areas in which the IOTC and IOSEA Secretariats have collaborated in the past, and where ongoing interaction could be beneficial for both organisations. For example, IOSEA contributed to the development of identification cards to be used by observers, field samplers as well as fishers in order to improve the identification and reporting of marine turtle bycatch. There may be scope for further joint activity in this area, in terms of content, design and  production of additional cards. Similarly, IOSEA has contributed in the past to the production of an annual “executive summary” of marine turtle conservation status, and it would be well-placed to continue offer technical inputs on an ongoing basis. It may be desirable to consider formalising these and other joint initiatives the form of a memorandum of understanding.

All in all, the IOTC Scientific Committee is an extremely valuable source of information for IOSEA, and every effort should be made to keep abreast of its activities in the future. The Committee is scheduled to meet again in December 2013.

Douglas Hykle
IOSEA Coordinator

UNEP © IOSEA Marine Turtle MoU Secretariat, c/o UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific,
United Nations Building, Rajdamnern Nok Avenue, Bangkok, 10200, Thailand
Tel: + (662) 288 1471 ; Fax: + (662) 288 3041 / 288 1029; E-mail: IOSEA Secretariat
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