Tunas and similar species are highly mobile. They move freely therefore through maritime areas under different legal regimes, from one area under the national jurisdiction of a coastal State to that of another state and beyond to the high seas.
In order to ensure an appropriate conservation of the stocks and their sustainable management, cooperation is therefore essential between all the interested parties.
The 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has included tuna and tuna like species in the category of “highly migratory species” which are governed by the provisions of its Article 64 that establishes this duty to cooperate “with a view to ensuring conservation and promoting the objective of optimum utilization of such species throughout the region, both within and beyond the exclusive economic zone”. This cooperation may be carried out “directly or through appropriate international organizations” and the article makes it mandatory to establish such an organization “in regions for which no appropriate international organization exists”.
In the case of the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO), there was already such an organization, the IATTC. Now, there are currently five international organizations for the conservation and management of tuna and tuna-like species: these Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) are: CCSBT, IATTC, ICCAT, IOTC, WCPFC. Of all these, the IATTC is the oldest, since it was established in 1949, a little more than 30 years before the adoption of the UNCLOS.
Originally, the IATTC was a very different organization and not a proper RFMO since its only mandate was to do scientific research. As set out in the 1949 Convention signed between the United States and Costa Rica, the sole objective of the Commission was “the gathering and interpretation of factual information”.
This was falling quite short from the provisions later inserted in the UNCLOS and their wider obligations. Over the years it also increasingly inconsistent with the practical operation of the Commission which began to discuss and decide issues beyond scientific research as such and more related to the conservation and management of the targeted species and related issues.
This inconsistency was aggravated with the adoption during the 90s of a number of international instruments concerning the marine environment and fisheries. The main relevant instruments are the 1992 Agenda 21 and Rio Declaration, the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement, among other relevant instruments.
IATTC members recognized the need to address the consequences of this evolution at the global level as well as of regulating the de facto expansion of the mandate and activities of the Commission. The negotiation of a new treaty started in 1998 and culminated in 2003 with the adoption of the “Antigua Convention”, which entered into force in August 2010. The IATTC was thus transformed from an organization focused on research to a full-fledged RFMO, like its other four sister organizations.
The United States is the depositary of the Antigua Convention and all relevant information on the status of the Convention, its signatures and deposit of instruments of ratification or adhesion may be accessed at the following link: https://www.state.gov/inter-american-tropical-tuna-commission-antigua-convention.
Nevertheless, from its origin as an organization focused on research, the IATTC has conserved two specific characteristics, which make it unique among other RFMOs, including the tuna RFMOs. First, it has its own scientific staff, headed by a Coordinator of Scientific Research, which provides advice and information to the Commission as well as assistance and capacity building to its developing members. Second, in addition to a number of field offices in several countries, the Commission has its own research laboratory at Achotines, in Panama.
Who are the members of the IATTC?The Antigua Convention has adopted an original approach to define the members of the Commission, all equal in rights regarding their participation to the operation of the Commission as such. Members include all Parties to the Antigua Convention (and Parties to the 1949 Convention which might become Parties to the Antigua Convention) as well as what the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement has referred to as a “Fishing Entity”: Chinese Taipei.
The current members of the IATTC can be grouped in these three categories:
- The Parties to the 2003 Antigua Convention: currently, 16 States and one qualified regional economic integration organization – the European Union;
- A “fishing entity” (as characterized by the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement) – Chinese Taipei;
- The Parties to the 1949 Convention that did not withdraw from the Commission after the entry into force of the Antigua Convention and are not still Parties to the Antigua Convention. There are currently three (Colombia, Vanuatu and Venezuela) , two of which have signed the Antigua Convention but have not deposited their instrument of ratification or adhesion yet.
For the sake of formal institutional continuity only, the negotiators of the Antigua Convention decided to keep among the very few provisions of the 1949 Convention that could be salvaged, that each Member would continue to be formally represented by up to four Commissioners each, appointed by the competent authorities. However, as in other international organizations, participation in the meetings of the Commission and its subsidiary bodies is done through accredited delegations and heads of these delegations may or may not be commissioners themselves.
Who may be Party to the 2003 Antigua Convention?A. The approach followed by the 2003 Antigua Convention is radically different from that of the 1949 Convention, which required the unanimous consent of the Parties to allow a State to adhere to the Convention and become a member of the Commission. Such a rule was incompatible with the provisions of UNCLOS and the obligation for States to cooperate directly or through an international organization.
In the Antigua Convention, any State or regional economic integration organization may or rather should be a Party as long as it meets the required qualifications.
B. There are three categories of States which are qualified to become Parties to the Antigua Convention:
- The States that were already Parties to the 1949 Convention;
- The coastal States of the Convention Area, which, because of their geographical and legal status, have an unqualified right to become Parties to the Antigua Convention even if there were not before Parties to the 1949 Convention; this includes also a member States of the European Union, as a regional economic integration organization, in representation of a coastal territory which lies outside the territorial scope of the organization: i.e. France on behalf of Clipperton Island and French Polynesia;
- Other States, individually or collectively through a certain kind of regional economic integration organization with delegation of sovereignty and sovereign rights in the field of fisheries – the European Union, if they meet one of the following requirements:
- their vessels have fished for fish stocks covered by the Convention at any time during the four years preceding the adoption of the Convention (27 June 1999 – 27 June 2003)
- their vessels fish for stocks covered by the Convention, following consultations with the Parties
- they are otherwise invited to become Parties on the basis of a decision of the Parties
Other types of association and participation: Cooperating Non-Members (CNM) and observersAnother important development took place in 2003, in parallel to the adoption of the Antigua Convention, when the Commission decided to allow for the status of Cooperating Non-Party or Cooperating Fishing Entity to be granted upon compliance with a certain number of requirements.
The cooperating Non-Members (CNM) of the IATTC are:
CPC: For practical reasons, the IATTC has been using in its Resolutions and other instruments as well in all its documents the acronym “CPC” to designate, at the same time, both its Members and Cooperating Non-Members taken altogether.