Overfishing 101: Postcard from Pendik

NOTE: This is a guest post from Lee Crockett, Director of Federal Fisheries Policy at the Pew Environment Group.

Where is Pendik, you might wonder? That is exactly what I asked myself when I touched down in Turkey last week. Pendik is a bustling coastal town about an hour south from Istanbul, and it was the location of the 22nd meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

My colleagues from the Pew Environment Group and I were in Turkey for two weeks, along with around 400 representatives from the 48 member governments of ICCAT, other conservation groups and the fishing industry. ICCAT is the international body that manages tuna fisheries across a quarter of the ocean’s surface, including the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.

This 22nd meeting was notably different from previous sessions, when catch limits and illegal fishing allegations regarding the commission’s marquee species, the Atlantic bluefin tuna, dominated discussions. This year, bluefin quotas — frequently the subject of intense debate and lobbying — weren’t up for renegotiation. But there were many other items on the agenda with a significant potential impact on the future health of this severely depleted species.

I am pleased to report that, after years of work, conservation groups achieved a major victory that will improve the traceability of this valuable species in the Mediterranean tuna fishery. Governments agreed to fund and begin implementation of an electronic catch documentation system for bluefin, with an impressive show of support from the European Union, Japan, Canada and the United States, along with many others, for the reform effort. These countries recognized the need to transition from the current, fraud-plagued, paper-based structure to one that can utilize existing information technologies to track these valuable fish from ocean to market.

This change is long overdue. In 2010, as illustrated by Pew’s recent “Mind the Gap” report, 141 percent more bluefin were traded on the international market than ICCAT quotas allow. An electronic tracking system will go a long way towards closing this wide gap.

Putting the squeeze on illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is critical to conserving threatened species as well. IUU is a costly blight on the world’s oceans – a problem that not only threatens the health of many marine species from a biological perspective, but also robs law-abiding fishermen and coastal communities globally of an estimated US $23 billion a year.

To address this problem, ICCAT members decreased the minimum length of a vessel (from 20 meters down to 12) that must be recorded and reported when found operating illegally. This is a key step, because recent evidence has indicated that a significant number of smaller vessels are currently fishing unlawfully for bluefin and swordfish. ICCAT’s decision means that these vessels must now be placed on a list that is shared with all member governments—ensuring rogue operators are inspected and even blocked from port.

ICCAT, though, isn’t just about tuna. Many other species associated with these fast-swimming animals are caught in fishing gear, often incidentally. Some shark species, for example, have seen their populations decline by 80 percent, in part due to being snared by these gear.

The good news from Pendik is that silky sharks, the third most important species in the global fin trade, received strong protection by governments, with ICCAT banning the vast majority of landings (bringing the caught fish onboard) and trade. Unfortunately, another species did not receive any protection, the severely depleted porbeagle shark. ICCAT’s inaction may increase attention on the porbeagle’s plight in other fora, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

This year’s ICCAT meeting was marked by measurable progress — especially when it comes to action on bluefin and curtailing illegal fishing. Members deserve credit for adopting protections on silky sharks, but they should have done more to safeguard the porbeagle and other fish species.

The Pew Environment Group looks forward to next year’s meeting. We will be there to assure continued progress on marine conservation, especially when it comes to doing even more to improve the health of bluefin tuna.

Related Stories:

Coastal Countries Step Up for Sharks

Fish Acting as Lawnmowers Help Coral Reefs Recover

A Small Fish with Big Problems

Photo: Marco Carè / Marine Photobank


Janine H.
Janine H6 years ago

This is a very sad story. An other animal has to go only because "we" humans do not want to share the world with other life forms, these life forms "we" would not eat (vegetarian food is not a bad idea, or eating with conscience as the so called primitive cultures did and still do, if they still exist. No meat/fish every day).

As little child i thought that rain is when God and the angels cry - because "we" humans have forgotten that we need this "intelligence", someone who could help... if "we" hadn't turned away for many centuries ago...

"Only when the last tree has been cut down; Only when the last river has been poisoned; Only when the last fish has been caught; Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten."
(Native American proverb)

"We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not yet learned the simple art of living together as brothers." (Martin Luther King)

Danuta Watola
Danuta W6 years ago

great article, thanks

rene davis
irene davis6 years ago

An electronic tracking system - step in right direction.

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

At last some progress and even agreement has been made.

jan macek
jan macek6 years ago

I wonder how humans would like to be caught in nets and deprived of O2. This is good news but not enough is being done to save sharks. Mexican fishing boats with their nets in US waters kill so many fish and sharks. They have ruined their fishing and now are doing the same to US waters. Humans MUST control their population or wildlife is doomed.

Isabel Araujo
Isabel Araujo6 years ago

Over fishing has to be stopprd. Thank you.

Nicole Weber
Nicole W6 years ago


John Mansky
John M6 years ago

Thanks for the article...

Matilda H.
Past Member 6 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Rose Balcom
Rose Balcom6 years ago

These countries should practice good management and let the tuna stocks recover!