The Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, a regional fisheries management body, adopted last week a Maldives-led proposal to set harvest control rules on the skipjack fishery.
The measure will help retain a key eco-label for Maldives tuna.
The Maldives’ skipjack tuna fishery was the first Indian Ocean tuna fishery to receive certification according to the Marine Stewardship Council standards.
The proposal by the Maldives to pre-emptively set control rules before any possible population collapse has been lauded as groundbreaking by industry experts and environmental groups.
Skip jack is currently abundant in the Indian Ocean, and well-defined harvest control rules will ensure that stocks remain healthy.
The agreement, the first-ever precautionary harvest rule, was reached by member states attending the IOTC’s annual meeting in La Reunion.
The World Wildlife Fund described the vote as the greatest test of the Maldives’ resolve to improve management of tuna.
“Backed by a majority of coastal states, the Maldives delegates demanded a vote on their proposal, an audacious move in a group where decisions are traditionally reached by consensus. Facing the prospect of an unwinnable vote, holdout nations acquiesced and the historically significant proposal was adopted to loud applause,” the WWF said.
Praising the Maldives, the MSC’s Rupert Howes said: “The adoption of this harvest control measure is a ground breaking moment in the responsible management of tuna fisheries globally.”
Skipjack is the most widely consumed species of tuna globally. More than half of fish caught in the Maldives is skipjack, according to government statistics.
The IOTC also agreed on a recovery plan for yellow fin tuna stocks, but details were not available at the time of going to press.
The Maldives lost the MSC certification for the handline component of its yellow fin tuna fishery last month over declining stocks.
The WWF has called on the IOTC to “make every effort to develop an effective recovery plan” for yellowfin tuna populations in the Indian Ocean.
Due to a substantial increase in longline, gillnet, handline and purse seine fishing by a large number of countries in the Indian Ocean, the IOTC reported that recent fishing has exceeded the ‘Maximum Sustainable Yield’ levels.
Yellowfin tuna accounts for 38 percent of the Maldivian fishery.
Correction: May 29, 2016
An earlier version of this article said the IOTC had failed to agree on cuts for the yellow fin tuna fishery. This is incorrect. The commission had in fact agreed on a recovery plan.