Summer is here and family barbecues will be in full bloom, with albacore tuna being a tradition for many people in the Pacific Northwest for generations. To keep this tradition, along with the important jobs and nutrition that this valuable species provides, we need to modernize how albacore is managed. Even though scientists estimate that the albacore tuna population is currently healthy, challenges exist and new threats are on the horizon, from forecasted increases in local ocean temperatures to other countries that might want to increase their catch.
With their streamlined, torpedo-shaped bodies and high metabolisms, albacore tuna can swim at speeds upward of 30 miles per hour, journeying far across the entire North Pacific. Because these fish are highly migratory, it takes international cooperation among fishing nations, through vital regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs).
What many believe is needed to safeguard the albacore fishery for future generations is an agreement on a “management procedure,” also known as a harvest strategy. A management procedure is a modern approach that involves working with all the stakeholders to set a vision for the fishery, then develop standards for assessing the fishery performance, and develop harvest control rules — which are predetermined actions to keep the fishery healthy. The process is agreeing on the rules of the game before it’s played. It marries scientists, fishermen and governmental regulators to an aligned common objective.
Fortunately, setting a harvest strategy for albacore tuna has already started, but this year is critical. Considerable work has been undertaken since 2015 to identify a host of objectives, including to maximize catch while keeping a sustainable amount of albacore tuna in the north Pacific Ocean. This also included testing what may be a hypothetical range and catch limits to see how they impact the status of the stock. This approach also tests assumptions and incorporates uncertainties about the fishery and environment. What if the stock becomes less productive because of environmental conditions in the future? What if another country ramps up its catches quickly? The good news: With the right strategy in place, one that includes pre-agreed harvest control rules to keep fishing levels consistent and commensurate with population size, computer simulations show that North Pacific albacore will stay healthy.
Now, it’s time for the United States to show leadership and work with other countries, such as Canada and Japan, to bring a proposal to adopt and implement a management procedure to the regional fishery management organizations, starting with the meeting of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission in August and following with the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission later in the year. These two organizations share responsibility for setting fishing rules across the North Pacific, and should ideally adopt mirrored strategies to achieve a common approach to albacore that migrate across this area.
These actions also could spark the cooperation needed to make more progress in adopting a management procedure for the southern stock of Pacific albacore that is a vitally important source of jobs and income to the United States’ territory of American Samoa.
So often, the challenges facing our oceans are seen as insurmountable, and industry and conservation organizations are pitted against one another in terms of which way to go. Although there are real challenges facing the albacore fishery, sustainable management relies on a host of policies and groups working together. We — and our organizations — agree that modernizing this fishery through the management procedure approach is achievable and the right step to maintain a productive fishery for years to come.