Covering over 70 million square kilometres, the Indian Ocean is the world’s third largest ocean, spreading from east Africa to the southern tips of Asia, and along the western Australian coast. Warm weather and strong winds help create a thriving marine ecosystem. The Indian Ocean is one of the world’s most economically important fishing areas – now accounting for 20 percent of the world’s production of tuna. Each year around one million tonnes of skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis), yellowfin (Thunnus albacares) and bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) are caught within the waters of the Indian Ocean, helping to provide a source of protein and income for hundreds of millions of people across the globe.
In the Indian Ocean, the most common method to catch tuna is using a technique known as ‘purse seining’. Purse seiners use large nets to encircle and capture whole schools of tuna. The use of sophisticated electronic devices, such as echo sounders, sonar, track plotters and fish aggregation devices (FADs) have helped fishers haul record numbers of tuna in recent years. But while this is a highly efficient fishing practice, there are significant uncertainties about the effect of purse seining on tuna stocks and the surrounding ecosystems.
The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) is responsible for managing the tuna fishing in the Indian Ocean. While the IOTC has adopted certain management measures to help limit some negative impacts of tuna fishing, none of the region’s tuna stocks is managed under a formally adopted harvest strategy.
A Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) for Indian Ocean tuna has been established jointly by key governments in the region, major tuna processors, producer organisations and their fishing vessels, with the support of WWF. The goal of the FIP is to support improvement in the management of tuna fisheries in the Indian Ocean so that consumers may in future be assured that the purse-seine tuna they purchase has been harvested sustainably. The ultimate aim is to meet the highest standards of sustainable fishing, such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standard.
In October 2016 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the participants and in early 2017 the ‘action plan’ for the FIP was agreed. This plan highlights the major activities, improvement areas and key performance indicators that participants will have to achieve within five years of the FIP being launched. Download the Action Plan (PDF)
The plan covers catches of skipjack, yellowfin and bigeye tuna species from around 40 industrial purse seine fishing vessels owned by French, Spanish, Italian, Mauritian and Seychelles flagged companies.
The participants of the Indian Ocean Tuna FIP will provide technical, financial and other support to the fisheries to improve the sustainability of tuna fishing in the region. The work in the action plan includes: supporting the development of robust harvest strategies for tuna, ensuring management measures are in place to maintain primary and secondary species above biological limits and providing a framework to effectively manage any ecosystem effects associated with purse seine fishing.
Participants involved in this FIP include, Princes Limited, Thai Union Europe, the Government of Seychelles, the Government of Mauritius, ANABAC/OPTUC, Inpesca Fishing LTD, Atunsa Inc, IOSMS, Beach Fishing LTD, Isabella Fishing LTD, CFTO, OPAGAC, ORTHONGEL, Industria Armatoriale Tonniera, Interatun LTD, Hartswater LTD, Sapmer SA, Thunnis Overseas Group, TFC and WWF.