The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas or ICCAT was formally established in 1969, and is responsible for the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas. The organization conducts studies on biometry, fisheries ecology, and oceanography, with a focus on the effects of fishing on tuna stock abundance in order to institute measures aimed at maintaining target population levels. Although on the surface their efforts may seem free of controversy, ICCAT has been criticized for policies that favor the fishing industry over the long-term conservation of the species–often referred to by its critics as the “International Conspiracy to Catch all Tuna.”
In 2008, scientists employed by ICCAT stated that the 2009 total allowable catch (Tac) should be limited at 15,000 tons; however, at their annual meeting ICCAT members set the official Tac at 22,000 tons—7,000 tons higher than the recommended limit (BBC). ICCAT also refused to heed the recommendation from scientists to close fisheries in the spawning months of May and June, despite warnings that “a collapse in the near future is a possibility.” Sergi Tudela, head of the fisheries program at the World Wildlife Fund, stated that the spawning closure was more important than the Tac because “it was the one thing that might have stopped overfishing” and “the decision is a mockery of science and a mockery of the world; ICCAT has shown that it doesn’t deserve the mandate to manage this iconic fishery” (BBC).
Recently ICCAT seems to be changing its policies to favor scientific recommendations. In 2010 the commission instituted a Tac of 12,900 tons, which marked the first time in which the total allowable catch fell within the range of scientific advice (PEW). At last year’s annual meeting ICCAT also implemented an electronic bluefin catch documentation (eBCD) system, which replaces the antiquated paper-based system (National Geographic). The system was introduced as a way to deter illegal fishing of bluefin tuna. Atlantic bluefin fishermen, tuna ranchers, and traders can now digitally record the required data for each fish, which will allow authorities to obtain real-time statistics on bluefin catches and transfers. Through this tracking officials can more accurately detect when annual catch limits are reached and prevent illegal stocks from entering the marketplace. Although it seems as if ICCAT has shifted its focus from the interests of the fishing industry to the conservation of tuna and tuna like species, it is too soon to tell whether its moniker–“International Conspiracy to Catch all Tuna”–can be retired.