International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT)

The Conservation and Management Measures Compliance Committee “reviews all aspects of compliance with ICCAT conservation and management measures in the ICCAT Convention Area, with particular reference to compliance with such measures by ICCAT Contracting Parties.” The Permanent Working Group for the Improvement of ICCAT Statistics and Conservation Measures “obtains, compiles and reviews all available information for the fishing activities of non-Contracting Parties, for species under the purview of ICCAT, including details on the type, flag and name of vessels and reported or estimated catches by species and area.” See Relationships.



The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (“ICCAT” or the “Commission”) is a regional fisheries management organization (“RFMO”) established by the Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (the “Convention”), prepared and adopted at a Conference of Plenipotentiaries in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1966. The Convention entered into force in 1969.


ICCAT has 48 Contracting Parties: Albania, Algeria, Angola, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Cape Verde, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, European Community, France (St. Pierre & Miquelon), Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, Libya, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Philippines, Russia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, St. Tome and Principe, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom (Overseas Territories), United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu and Venezuela.

Pursuant to Article XIV of the Convention, the Convention remains open for signature by the government of any state which is a member of the United Nations (“UN”) or any of the UN’s specialized agencies. Instruments of ratification or approval are to be deposited with the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (“FAO”).

Article XIV(4) of the Convention also permits “any inter-governmental economic integration organization constituted by States that have transferred to it competence over the matters governed by th[e] Convention, including the competence to enter into treaties in respect of those matters” to sign and/or adhere to the Convention. Upon the deposit of formal confirmation or adherence, any such organization will be considered a full Contracting Party; however, that organization’s member states shall thereby cease to be separate parties to the Convention, and are to transit a formal notification to that effect to the Director-General of the FAO.

In addition, pursuant to the 2003 Recommendation by ICCAT on Criteria for Attaining the Status of Cooperating Non-Contracting Party, Entity or Fishing Entity in ICCAT, the Commission will also grant the special status of “Cooperator” to interested parties, a status which bestows many of the same rights and obligations as enjoyed by the Contracting Parties.


The Convention applies to “all waters of the Atlantic Ocean, including the adjacent Seas.”


ICCAT is an intergovernmental organization responsible for the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent waters.

Pursuant to a 1971 agreement between ICCAT and Spain, the Commission’s permanent seat is located in Madrid, and the Spanish Government has recognized ICCAT’s juridical personality and its capacity to enter into contracts, to purchase and dispose of personal property and real estate, and to initiate legal action. In addition, the Spanish Government has recognized the inviolability of the Commission’s premises and its correspondence, agreed not to impede the passage to or from the Seat of persons having official functions to perform therein or otherwise invited by ICCAT, accorded jurisdictional immunity and immunity from execution to the Commission’s property and assets, and exempted the Commission from all taxes. The Spanish Government has also recognized the diplomatic privileges and immunities of the ICCAT Chairman and Vice-Chairmen, as well as for the representatives of the Contracting Parties attending meetings of the Commission or its subsidiary bodies.


ICCAT is committed to maintaining tuna populations at levels which permit the maximum sustainable catch for food and other purposes and ensure the effective exploitation of those fishes in a manner consistent with that catch. In order to carry out the objectives of the Convention, ICCAT monitors and studies the populations of approximately thirty fish species, including Atlantic bluefin, skipjack, yellowfin, albacore, bigeye tuna, swordfish, blue marlin, various mackerals and Atlantic bonito. To do so, ICCAT oversees and coordinates research on various aspects of Atlantic tuna fisheries with an eye to the effects of fishing on stock abundance. Such studies include “research on the abundance, biometry and ecology of the fishes; the oceanography of their environment; and the effects of natural and human factors upon their abundance.”

Article IV(1) of the Convention specifically authorizes ICCAT to utilize the technical and scientific services and information provided by the Contracting Parties and other public and private institutions in carrying out its tasks, and permits the Commission, where possible, to supplement such research with its own studies.

Pursuant to Article VIII(1)(a) of the Convention, the Commission is empowered, “on the basis of scientific evidence, [to] make recommendations designed to maintain the populations of tuna and tuna-like fishes that may be taken in the Convention area at levels which will permit the maximum sustainable catch.” For a description of the procedures ICCAT follows in enacting recommendations, see Decision Making.

For example, at its 2009 meeting in Recife, Brazil, ICCAT announced the adoption of further measures in regards to bluefin tuna stocks, including: reduction of the total allowable catch from 22,000 to 13,500 tons for 2010; further reductions in fishing capacity and the number of authorized joint fishing operations; and shortening of the fishing season for purse seiners to one month each year. ICCAT scientists also agreed, as a precautionary measure, to re-evaluate bluefin tuna stocks in 2010, and to suspend fishing completely if a serious risk of stock collapse were detected.


Each Contracting Party to the Convention may be represented on the Commission by no more than three delegates, who in turn may be supported by experts and advisors.

Regular meetings of the Commission occur once every two years. At each meeting ICCAT elects a Chairman and a first and second Vice Chairman to administer the procedural aspects of its meetings. Those elected may not serve more than two consecutive terms. Special meetings may also be called at the request of a majority of the Contracting Parties or by decision of the Council. Except as otherwise provided, decisions of the Commission are made by majority vote, with each Contracting Party entitled to one vote. Two-thirds of the Contracting Parties present constitutes a quorum.

In addition to the Commission, the Convention also provides for a Council, which consists of the Chairman and Vice-Chairmen of the Commission, along with the representatives of between four and eight of the Contracting Parties (other than the Contracting Parties of which the Chairman and Vice-Chairmen are nationals). The Council, which meets at least once in between regular meetings of the Commission, determines the work to be carried out by ICCAT’s staff. The Council’s decisions are communicated to the Executive Secretary of the Commission. Council members are elected at each regular Commission meeting, and with the elections, the Commission is to give “due consideration to the geographic, tuna fishing and tuna processing interests of the Contracting Parties,” as well as to “the equal right of the Contracting Parties to be represented on the Council.”

The Executive Secretary is appointed by the Commission and oversees ICCAT’s day-to-day administration and staff. As directed by the Commission, the Executive Secretary is authorized to: (a) coordinate programs of investigation by the Contracting Parties; (b) prepare budget estimates for the Commission; (c) account for and disburse funds of the Commission in accordance with its budget; (d) arrange for cooperation with other international organizations; (e) prepare the collection and analysis of data necessary to accomplish the Commission’s work, particularly data relating to the current and maximum sustainable catch of tuna stocks; and (f) prepare for approval by the Commission of scientific, administrative and other reports of the Commission and its subsidiary bodies. The Executive Secretary is also charged, in consultation with the Chairman, with preparing the provisional agenda for each regular meeting of the Commission, according to the procedures set forth in Rule 8 of the Rules of Procedure.

The Convention also provides for the establishment of several Panels to carry out the Convention’s objectives, with the Panels grouped by species and/or geographic area. Individual Panels: (a) are responsible for collecting and reviewing scientific information relating to the species or geographic area under their purview; (b) may propose recommendations to the Commission for joint action by the Contracting Parties on the basis of their scientific investigations; and (c) may recommend to the Commission studies and investigations, or coordination of such studies and investigations among Contracting Parties, that are necessary to obtain information relating to their mandates.

The Commission is charged with establishing individual Panels, which hold regular meetings in conjunction with the regular meetings of the Commission. Membership on any particular Panel is open to all Contracting Parties who wish to join, upon written notification to the Chairman of the Commission. Each Contracting Party may be represented on a Panel by its delegates or alternates, as assisted by experts or advisers. Currently, four such Panels have been established: Tropical Tunas (yellowfin, bigeye and skipjack); Northern Temperate Tunas (albacore and Atlantic bluefin); Southern temperate tunas (albacore and southern bluefin); and Other Species (swordfish, billfishes and small tunas).

ICCAT has also established two standing committees. The first, the Standing Committee on Finance and Administration, is responsible for advising the Commission on matters relating to the Executive Secretary and staff, the budget of the Commission, the time and place of meetings of the Commission and Commission publications. In addition, ICCAT has established a Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (“SCRS”), which develops and recommends to the Commission policies and procedures relating to the collection, compilation, analysis and dissemination of fishery statistics for the Convention area, and reviews the Commission’s various research programs. Any Contracting Party may join either standing committee.

As noted in the ICCAT Field Manual, “[p]ractically all of the Commission’s scientific work and data collection efforts are accomplished by the Contracting Parties themselves. The Secretariat’s role is more of being a focal point for data collation/assimilation and coordinating access by scientists to the common databases.”


Article XI(1) of the Convention specifically contemplates a “working relationship” between the Commission and the FAO. To that end, in 1973, ICCAT and the FAO entered into an agreement to “ensure cooperation . . . by consultation, coordination of effort, mutual assistance and joint action in fields of common interest.” Pursuant to that agreement, ICCAT is entitled to send observers to sessions of the FAO Committee on Fisheries and its subsidiary bodies, to sessions of the FAO Conference and Council and other meetings of the FAO which deal with matters relating to the conservation and management of the living resources of the sea. In turn, the FAO is entitled to send representatives to all meetings of ICCAT and its subsidiary bodies. The agreement further endorses the “fullest exchange of information and documents concerning matters of common interest,” close and regular cooperation and consultation, and, where possible, arrangements for joint action between ICCAT and the FAO.

The Convention also explicitly endorses cooperation between the Commission and other international fisheries commissions and relevant scientific organizations, and authorizes the Commission to enter into agreements with such organizations. It also authorizes the Commission to invite any appropriate international organization or any government that is a member of the UN or any of the UN’s specialized agencies to send observers to meetings of the Commission and its subsidiary bodies. Such observers may address the meeting and otherwise participate in its work, but may not vote.


ICCAT decisions are taken by a majority of the members of the Commission, except as provided by Article VIII(1)(b) of the Convention, with each Contracting Party entitled to one vote. Article VIII(1)(b)(i) of the Convention provides that recommendations must be made with the approval of at least two-thirds of all of Contracting Parties when they are made upon the initiative of the Commission when there is already an appropriate Panel in place. Otherwise, Article VIII(1)(b) authorizes recommendations to be made based upon the proposal of the relevant Panel(s) or upon Commission initiative when there is no appropriate panel in place.

ICCAT recommendations become effective for all Contracting Parties six months after notification by the Commission, subject to the provisions of Article VIII(3). Pursuant to that article, any Contracting Party member of a Panel (or, in the case of recommendations made on the initiative of the Commission, any Contracting Party) may object to a recommendation within the six-month notification period; should such an objection be made, the recommendation will not become effective for a further sixty days. Once an objection is made, any other Contracting Party may likewise object, either within the sixty-day period or within forty-five days of the last objection, whichever is later. The recommendation in question will then become effective upon the expiration of the extended period(s) for objection, except for those Contracting Parties that have objected.

In the event that less than one-fourth of the Contracting Parties object, those Contracting Parties will be provided with a further sixty-day period to reaffirm their objections; upon the expiration of that further period, the recommendation shall become effective, except with respect to those Contracting Parties who reaffirm their objections.

In the event that more than one-fourth but less than a majority of the Contracting Parties object, the recommendation shall become effective, except with respect to those Contracting Parties who have objected.

If a majority of Contracting Parties object, the recommendation does not become effective.

Any Contracting Party may withdraw an objection to a recommendation at any time. The recommendation will then become effective with respect to that Contracting Party if it is already in effect, or at such time as it becomes effective pursuant to the terms of Article VIII. The Commission will notify the Contracting Parties upon receipt of each objection (as well as any withdrawals) and the entry into force of any recommendation.

Under Rule 9(8) of the Procedural Rules, in “cases of special necessity, where a decision cannot be deferred until the next meeting of the Commission,” a matter may be decided between regular meetings by intersessional vote (either electronically or via other means of written communication).


The Convention does not discuss dispute resolution. But, the Seat Agreement between ICCAT and Spain does include provisions concerning the settlement of differences. Under Article 25 of the Seat Agreement, ICCAT, in cooperation with the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, agreed to take measures to provide for the suitable settlement of disputes involving ICCAT officials who enjoy immunity. In addition, under Article 26 of the Seat Agreement, conflicts concerning the application of the Seat Agreement, which cannot be resolved by negotiations, will be submitted to a three-person arbitral panel for final settlement.


Every two years, ICCAT submits a report on its work and findings, which is transmitted by the Executive Secretary to all Contracting Parties of the Commission, the FAO and any government or international organization invited to send observers to the meeting. The Council, Panels and other subsidiary bodies of ICCAT also adopt reports at the end of each meeting, which are then submitted to the appropriate parent body.

Generally speaking, ICCAT collects two main types of data. Fishery independent data includes research vessel surveys and other studies, such as those conducted with tagging programs. But, ICCAT generally relies on fishery-dependent data sources, such as logbooks, observer programs, port sampling, factory/market sampling and international trade (import/export) statistics.

ICCAT also maintains a number of statistical databases, which contain data on fleet characterization (number and type of fishing vessels); nominal catch (by species, region, gear, flag); catch and effort (fishing fleet, time, gear and time and area strata); and fish size (size samples and catch-at-size estimates).


See Data Information Sharing, Exchange, and Harmonization.


The Commission is charged with adopting a budget for the two years that follow each regular meeting. The Council reviews the second half of the biennial budget at its regular meeting between Commission meetings, and may reapportion amounts in the budget for the second year within the total budget approved by the Commission. In accounting for the expenditures of the Commission, the Financial Regulations authorize the establishment of a General Fund, a Working Capital Fund and such trust funds as are necessary. The total budget for 2009 was 2,714,756 euros.

Each Contracting Party is obligated to contribute annually to the ICCAT budget, in an amount calculated according to a scheme provided for in the Financial Regulations, as modified by the Madrid Protocol. Individual appropriations are determined in part by “each Contracting Party’s fixed basic fees for Commission and Panel membership” and in part by taking into account “the total round weight of catch and net weight of canned products of Atlantic tuna and tuna-like fishes and the degree of economic development of the Contracting Parties.” For the purposes of the latter calculation, each ICCAT member is assigned to one of four groups, depending on the respective sizes of its GNP and catch. The scheme of annual contributions is established and may be modified only by the agreement of the Contracting Parties present and voting. The Executive Secretary notifies each Contracting Party of its yearly assessment.

The Commission is also authorized to finance appropriations for any financial period from voluntary contributions from any of the Contracting Parties or from other sources, including income that accrues to the Commission.

The Commission may suspend the voting rights of any Contracting Party whose arrears are greater or equal to the amount due from the preceding two years.


ICCAT, under Article VIII(1)(a) of the Convention, can issue recommendations involving Total Allowable Catch (“TAC”) limits, as well as catch limits for individual Contracting Parties. For example, from 2010-2012, the TAC for South Atlantic Swordfish is 15,000 tons in each year. In 2010, the catch limits for the Contracting Parties are: 5,282 tons (European Community); 3,666 tons (Brazil); 1,168 tons (Namibia); 1,165 tons (Uruguay); 932 tons (South Africa); 901 tons (Japan); 459 tons (Chinese Taipei); 389 tons (Senegal); 263 tons (China); 125 tons (Côte d’Ivoire and Belize); 100 tons (United States, Angola, Ghana, and St. Tome and Principe); 50 tons (Philippines and South Korea); and 25 tons (United Kingdom). In 2009, ICCAT also adopted recommendations concerning TAC limits for Bigeye Tuna, North Atlantic Swordfish, Mediterranean Swordfish (prohibiting all fishing in October and November), North Atlantic Albacore, Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Bluefin Tuna, and Thresher Sharks (prohibiting trade in the stock).


Pursuant to Article IX(1) of the Convention, each Contracting Party agrees to “take all action necessary to ensure the enforcement of the Convention” and to “transmit to the Commission . . . a statement of the action taken by it for these purposes.”

The Contracting Parties also agreed to furnish to the Commission any available statistical, biological and other scientific information necessary for the Commission to carry out its functions under the Convention, or, if unable to obtain and/or furnish such information, to allow the Commission (through the Contracting Parties) to obtain the necessary information on a voluntary basis directly from companies and individual fishermen.

The Contracting Parties have also agreed to collaborate with each other in implementing the Convention, including on measures to “set up a system of international enforcement to be applied to the Convention area.”

ICCAT has adopted a number of resolutions and recommendations that require the Contracting Parties to report various types of information, such as vessel lists and compliance reports, in order to ensure that the ICCAT recommendations are being adequately implemented. For example, ICCAT members are obligated to inspect all tuna fishing vessels in their ports, including those of non-ICCAT members, and report violations of the recommendations to the Commission. If a non-member ship is found to have fish that are managed by ICCAT on board, that ship is not supposed to land or transship those fish unless it can prove that they were caught outside the Convention area or in compliance with ICCAT rules.

To facilitate the assimilation of information and to assist in answering questions regarding ICCAT regulations, the Commission has created a Department of Compliance.

Pursuant to various resolutions and recommendations, ICCAT maintains a number of databases, including:

  • ICCAT Record of Vessels over 20m (the so-called “white list” which lists vessels over 20 meters authorized to fish for tuna or tuna-like species in the Convention area);
  • ICCAT Record of Carrier Vessels (lists vessels authorized to receive transshipments of tuna and tuna-like species in the Convention area from large-scale tuna longline vessels);
  • ICCAT Record of BFT Catching Vessels (lists vessels authorized to fish actively for bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea);
  • ICCAT Record of BFT Other Vessels (lists all other fishing vessels authorized to operate for bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea);
  • ICCAT Record of BFT Farming Facilities (lists facilities authorized to operate for farming of bluefin tuna caught in the Convention area);
  • ICCAT Record of BFT Traps (lists traps authorized to fish east Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna);
  • ICCAT Record of Ports (lists ports designated by Contracting Parties in which transshipment and landing of bluefin tuna is authorized);
  • ICCAT Record of Joint Fishing Operations (lists joint fishing operations, i.e., “any operation between two or more catching vessels flying the flag of different flag States [Contracting Parties] where the catch of one catching vessel is attributed to one or more other catching vessels in accordance with an allocation key”).

ICCAT also maintains an IUU Vessel List (the so-called “black list”), which contains a list of vessels presumed to have engaged in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities in the Convention area.

In addition to the above databases, ICCAT can also utilize non-discriminatory trade-restrictive measures to combat IUU fishing. Using reports from the Contracting Parties on the source of their tuna imports, ICCAT can identify those Contracting Parties that have failed to discharge their obligations, as well as non-member states that have undermined ICCAT conservation measures. It then may recommend that the Contracting Parties adopt non-discriminatory trade-restrictive measures against those identified states.

ICCAT has also established two compliance bodies. The Conservation and Management Measures Compliance Committee “reviews all aspects of compliance with ICCAT conservation and management measures in the ICCAT Convention Area, with particular reference to compliance with such measures by ICCAT Contracting Parties.” The Permanent Working Group for the Improvement of ICCAT Statistics and Conservation Measures “obtains, compiles and reviews all available information for the fishing activities of non-Contracting Parties, for species under the purview of ICCAT, including details on the type, flag and name of vessels and reported or estimated catches by species and area.”


See Relationships.


Pursuant to Article XII of the Convention, the Convention will remain in force until such time as a majority of the Contracting Parties agree to terminate it. A Contracting Party may withdraw from the Convention by submitting written notification to the Director-General of the FAO. The withdrawal will take effect on December 31 of the following year. Other Contracting Parties may also withdraw from the Convention at the same time if they submit written notification to the Director-General of the FAO within a month of receiving notice of the original withdrawal (but no later than April 1 of that year).


At its 2007 annual meeting in Antalya, Turkey, the Commission appointed three independent experts with knowledge of international fisheries instruments, management and science to conduct a performance review of ICCAT. The independent panel’s recommendations were provided to a newly formed Working Group on the Future of ICCAT, which is concerned with efforts to improve the Commission’s efficacy and efficiency. ICCAT members have also taken part in joint meetings of other tuna RFMOs, in an effort to harmonize and standardize the way those organizations assess and manage fisheries.



  • The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, available at
  • ICCAT Field Manual, available at
  • ICCAT: Report for Biennial Period, 2008-09, Part II (2009) – Vol. 1 (2009), available at
  • ICCAT: Report of the Independent Performance Review of ICCAT, 2009, available at
  • Christopher J. Carr and Harry N. Scheiber, Dealing with a Resource Crisis: Regulatory Regimes for Managing the World’s Marine Fisheries, 21 STAN. ENVTL. L.J. 45 (2002).
  • Elizabeth DeLone, Improving the Management of the Atlantic Tuna: The Duty to Strengthen the ICCAT in Light of the 1995 Straddling Stocks Agreement, 6 N.Y.U. ENVTL. L.J. 656 (1998).
  • Patrick A. Nickler, A Tragedy of the Commons in Coastal Fisheries: Contending Prescriptions for Conservation, and the Case of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, 26 B.C. Envtl. Aff. L. Rev. 549 (1999).
  • Christine Goepp Towberman, Fishing for a Solution: The Role of the United States in Preventing Collapse of the Eastern Atlantic Bluefin Fishery, 38 Envtl. L. Rep. News & Analysis 10102 (2008).
  • Jon Van Steenis, Pirates as Poachers: International Fisheries Law and the Bluefin Tuna, 29 CAP. U. L. REV. 659 (2001).

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