Remarks by Dr. Jane Lubchenco to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT)

November 19, 2010

Why are we here, in Paris, at the ICCAT meeting? Why am I here as Administrator of NOAA? And why is there now such keen international interest in this and other fisheries that heretofore have been the quiet province primarily of fishery managers? Why, indeed?

I believe the reasons are simple. (1) Fisheries are more important to food security, economic security, health, and national security than ever before. And (2) far too many fisheries around the world are in dire straits, with serious consequences for jobs, for communities, for biodiversity, for recreational opportunities, and for the healthy oceans upon which healthy fisheries depend.

NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco with Ellen Peel (L) and head of U.S. delegation Russell Smith (R) at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meeting in Paris, France.

NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco with Ellen Peel (L) and head of U.S. delegation Russell Smith (R) at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meeting in Paris, France.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

For some of you here, fisheries are about food – food that provides the sole or primary source of protein for over a billion people each day. Fisheries are a food security issue.

Because there is increasing recognition of the health benefits of seafood, there is growing demand and burgeoning markets. Fisheries are an economic and trade issue.

For many here, fisheries are about jobs - jobs that require deep knowledge of the habits of elusive species, a willingness to take risks, and a deep respect for the dangers and vagaries of the ocean. For commercial fishermen there is the satisfaction of putting food on the tables of families, communities, and others. Recreational fishermen relish the pleasure of simply being out on the water with family or friends, and of testing their skills against a mighty fish. But both commercial and recreational fisheries create not only fishing jobs but additional employment, be it for ice supply, processing and distribution or for boats, tackle, gear and supplies. Either way, fisheries are a jobs issue, especially during tough economic times like the present.
For many here, fisheries are about protecting vulnerable species that are not targeted in fisheries, but get caught nonetheless, or protecting the important role that target species play in their ecosystems whether they are food for, or predators on, other species. Fisheries are a biodiversity and conservation issue.

For many here, fisheries are about protecting vulnerable species that are not targeted in fisheries, but get caught nonetheless, or protecting the important role that target species play in their ecosystems whether they are food for, or predators on, other species. Fisheries are a biodiversity and conservation issue.

With all these pressures on and demands for fish, is it any surprise that managing them for long-term sustainability has been a challenge? In the end, fisheries will be able to deliver this balance of benefits if and only if they are embedded in healthy oceans, managed with strong, science-based and precautionary measures, and characterized by effective compliance. It is this juggling that brings us here this week.

ICCAT as one of the oldest regional fishery management organizations, is now in the spotlight. ICCAT has a chance to show that it can learn from the past, balance the range of issues, and make tough decisions.

We are looking forward to a productive ICCAT meeting this year. We share an interest with other members of ICCAT in ensuring the sustainability of tunas, swordfish, billfish, and sharks, as well as protected species caught as bycatch in our fisheries. Critical stewardship decisions sit before us – decisions of consequence for the valuable highly migratory species of the Atlantic, their ecosystems, and the fishing communities that depend on healthy stocks. In that regard, the United States appreciates the hard work of the Standing Committee for Research and Statistics (SCRS) in conducting stock assessments and providing scientific advice to the Commission.

ICCAT member states have made marked progress in crafting recommendations that better reflect the science and the Convention's goal of long-term sustainability of the target stocks. Compliance with these measures has also improved, thanks to the decisive actions taken by ICCAT as well as by ICCAT's members. While this progress is commendable, much is still left to be accomplished, particularly to ensure that ICCAT management measures take full account of the impact to ecosystems by ICCAT fisheries and also take into consideration the uncertainty surrounding the stock assessment results.

Over the past year, SCRS scientists worked diligently to assess ICCAT stocks, including bluefin and bigeye tuna. While data reporting has been - and in some instance continues to be – a problem, the scientific analyses have been increasing in depth and rigour. The most important way for us to show our appreciation to our scientists is to carefully consider the results of their work, and most importantly, to heed their advice.

Thanks to the Kobe II Strategy Matrix and its application to newly assessed ICCAT stocks, we now can consider a range of possible management scenarios, taking into account the "known" uncertainties by determining an acceptable level of probability. Additional uncertainties are not quantifiable, however, and warrant a precautionary approach to ensure that management recommendations are sufficiently robust to accomplish our Convention objective.

Some of our challenges go beyond science. Foremost among these are the issues of compliance and allocation. We must build on the Compliance Committee's significant accomplishments at last year's meeting, and apply equitable and appropriate measures to address the concerns raised in the letters sent to members. We also must carefully review and candidly discuss new evidence of possible compliance issues, and be ready to take appropriate action. In considering the allocation of individual stocks, we must work together to make use of the principles laid out in the ICCAT allocation criteria. At the same time, we must ensure that resource access is conditioned on countries' commitment to the monitoring and wise stewardship of these resources, including provision of scientific data. Where appropriate, countries should be willing to assist developing states in ensuring capacity building designed for improved management and monitoring for the benefit of the stocks as well as the fishing communities.

The United States stands ready to partner with our colleagues around the table to ensure that ICCAT is perceived by the world as a management organization that is fully capable of and willing to use science-based measures that reflect precautionary and ecosystem approaches to management of highly migratory species in the Atlantic. In the end, ICCAT's actions are only as good as those of its members, whether in management proposals at ICCAT or their implementation in domestic fisheries. Now is the time for us to be leaders. We must be courageous in our decisions and rigorous in the way we go about implementing them.

Before closing, I would like to thank outgoing SCRS Chairman Dr. Jerry Scott for his outstanding service. His legacy to the work of this organization and beyond is clear; he has enhanced the level of work of SCRS and made the science SCRS produces more understandable to managers. The United States is grateful for all his efforts.

In conclusion, let's remember why we are here: to protect the fish, the fishermen and associated businesses. Fishing puts food on our table. Fishing provides a livelihood for the brave few willing to go to sea each day to earn it. Fishing sustains a way of life that has endured for centuries, with knowledge passed on from one generation to another. Fishing defines who we are as individuals, communities and nations.

Today we have a choice to make:

Will we choose sustainability or status quo?
Will we continue down the path we are on, or chose a different direction?

I believe in a future where fishermen and fish thrive. The world is watching. The world is waiting.

Let's rise to the challenge.