The Bottom Line: Tracking Tuna in the Cloud


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

Several months ago, I wrote about a study showing that Atlantic bluefin tuna were being caught at a rate much higher than scientists recommended and regulations allowed. Furthermore, fishermen were not reporting their catches to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the body that manages tuna in the Atlantic Ocean. This underreporting undermines measures designed to rebuild bluefin populations and threatens the species’ recovery.

Thankfully for bluefin tuna and those who care about their survival, ICCAT’s member nations acted decisively at their annual meeting last November to help crack down on unreported fishing. They agreed to implement an electronic bluefin catch documentation (eBCD) system that will replace the paper-based one and help close loopholes.

A properly designed and implemented electronic tracking program will be more efficient and easier to use, will improve the data collected, and help deter illegal fishing. Accurate information is critical to ensuring that bluefin tuna are managed properly.

The end of January marked the first deadline for the eBCD project — the invitation for companies to bid for the job of creating the new system. After ICCAT government representatives met in Madrid to develop a request for proposal, this document was released eight days ahead of schedule and contained a list of important requirements. ICCAT and its members should be congratulated for taking the first steps toward establishing a program that could become the standard for counting and tracking tuna caught in fisheries around the world.

This high-tech program will allow Atlantic bluefin fishermen, tuna ranchers, and traders to digitally record the required data for each fish, including but not limited to its size and when, where and how it was caught. This information would be stored in a “cloud,” an online database that will allow designated authorities from each country to access real-time statistics on bluefin catches and transfers. Officials would then validate the information before the tuna could continue through the supply chain.

The system would also automatically detect when vessels exceeded their annual catch limits and prevent such stocks from legally entering the marketplace by denying the acceptance of records where numbers did not add up properly. Eventually, the eBCD could include a bar code assigned to each fish, which would make tracking this valuable species even easier.

If things go according to schedule, the eBCD program should be designed and ready for testing through a pilot program by the middle of this year. It will then be rolled out fishery-wide in time for the 2013 fishing season, which begins in May.

It is critical that ICCAT continues to meet its deadlines and put a system in place to drastically reduce the number of illegally caught bluefin entering the market. The future health of Atlantic bluefin tuna populations will be enhanced by improving the ability to track the amount of fish caught each year. A well-designed eBCD, along with science-based catch limits and enforceable regulations, can help guarantee the long-term survival of these magnificent fish.


Related Stories:

World’s Largest Tuna Conservation Coalition Bans Shark Finning

Getting Serious About Illegal Tuna Fishing in the Mediterranean

Protecting Tuna with Technology


Photo Credit: NOAA


Lynette B.
Lynette B5 years ago

PS - I should have said:"....don't like Asian culture....."

Lynette B.
Lynette B5 years ago

80% of Atlantic and pacific bluefin tuna goes directly to Japan for highly prized sushi and sashimi.

One more reason why I don't like Asia.........nore will I eat sushi with seafood in it. It is never made with sustainable marine species.

I hope this form of monitoring the tuna fishing works.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L5 years ago


ANA MARIJA R5 years ago

Thank you for the article...

Nicole Weber
Nicole W5 years ago


Elaine Pequegnat
Elaine Pequegnat5 years ago

Good news on its way!

Ruth S.
Ruth C5 years ago

I don't eat tuna, they have the right to live too!

Amie K.
Amie K5 years ago

I am glad to see this but in the meantime I stopped eating tuna more than a year ago due to concerns about overfishing. I hope they can get this implemented on schedule (rarely happens but one can always hope).

Kathleen G.
Kathleen G5 years ago

Hopefully this will stop the overfishing of Tuna and maybe soon other species in our oceans.Something needs to be put in place to stop the greedy from depleting our ravaged oceans of the precious life that fights to survive in mans pollution and from mans unbridled greed.

John Mansky
John Mansky5 years ago

Thank you for the article...