The role of Brazil in the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), interview with Leandra Gonçalves, by Roberta Moreira

With the world’s population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, according to a new United Nations report released in June 2019, sustainable development (and more sustainable production and consumption patterns) might be the only key to sustain life in the decades to come. In the article “The role of Brazil in the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT)”, published in the RBPI’s special issue Brazil ups and downs in global environmental governance (2008-2018) (vol. 62, n. 2), Leandra Gonçalves looks to the role played by Brazil within an organization that seeks the sustainable management of tunas and tuna-like species – which are threatened with extinction. The article reviews ICCAT’s history, its importance in the global fishery governance and breaks the Brazilian participation in three phases from 2007 to 2017, varying from leadership to a non-compliant member with domestic lack of governance. It concludes arguing that if Brazil wants to recover its leadership, what could be done, the country must organize its domestic fishery sector first and commits with environmental sustainability. Leandra Gonçalves was interviewed by Roberta Moreira, Communication Consultant – Environmental Rights at UN Environment.

The development of the country’s fishing industry faces several challenges, from a technologically outdated fleet to the lack of scientific data, weakness of domestic fisheries institutions and lack of law enforcement. In your article, you mentioned that Brazil would need to show “its commitment to its own waters” in order to become again a leader within ICCAT. You also attribute its recent lack on compliance with ICCAT’s norms to domestic factors, as political instability. How could Brazil improve its domestic fishery policy, considering a scenario of longer political and economic instability?

The domestic fishery needs a national policy that could promote fishery development insulated from political changes. The Brazilian government has to organize the sector domestically, invest in science and build an independent system to monitor the different fisheries and to assess the condition of exploited stocks continuously. It could also engage in partnership with private sector and also with the Universities.

Investing in research to raise national data on the fishery sector seems to pose several benefits for many actors – NGOs, academics, entrepreneurs and government. In your evaluation, why Brazil is not prioritizing it?

Brazilian fishery sector lacks governance and stability. In the past years, the fishery sector was managed by different institutions, under different ministers and following different political orientations.

Since January 2019, Brazil has a new President in power, implementing many changes in the national environmental agenda and governance. The country’s international position is also significantly changing in multilateral environmental arenas, as for climate change, for example. Is the national fishing sector also facing a redesign? How do you evaluate the possibilities for Brazil within ICCAT in the years to come?

The current government has undermined a diverse array of environmental policies, mainly related to protected areas and climate change. For fisheries, the government has redesigned the institutional management of the sector by bringing the fishery secretary under the Agriculture Ministry. So far, I have notice a focus on organizing the sector documentation, mainly related to “seguro defeso.” There was another institutional change that was to put an end to the shared management of the fishery sector with the Environmental Ministry. In this case, there are a group of people that believes this may be good, as it may solve the conflict between institutions. On the other hand, there are criticisms based on the argument that now the command and control of endangered fish stocks are under the same manager that has a short-term view. I still don’t have data to state if this change is good or not, but, so far, the meetings of the CPGs (Comitês Permanentes de Gestão/Standing Committees for the Management of Fisheries) were resumed and I am curious to see its development.

One way to ensure the conservation of fish stocks and marine biodiversity is through the creation of protected areas. In 2018, Brazil created two new protected areas, in São Pedro and São Paulo archipelagos, and Trindade and Martim Vaz. As a result, Brazil has moved from 1.5% of marine protected areas to 25%, reaching the quantitative aspect of Aichi’s Target 11 – to have 10% of the marine and coastal areas protected by 2020. Did it affect the Brazilian fishing sector or tuna’s conservation? And did it add any bargaining power to Brazil within ICCAT or other international fisheries regulating bodies?

The large marine protected areas (LSMPAs) creation in 2018 will probably not cause any effect to the tuna conservation specifically, and for sure this has no impact on the ICCAT negotiations. The LSMPAs has impacted the government image under the Convention of Biological Diversity as now Brazil has reached the Aichi target 11. The creation was a political act, within a small policy window, and its effects for the biodiversity will just be able to be measured in a long-term process, and it will strongly depend on the agreements over the management plans and its implementation.

The question of fishing quotas divides opinions. ICCAT has established fishing quotas for its Member-states to ensure the worldwide conservation of tuna fish stocks in the mid-long term. On the other hand, some researchers have already stated that the only way to ensure tuna’s non-extinction would be to completely stop fishing it. What position did Brazil assume when the quota proposal was discussed under ICCAT and how do you see this mechanism?

Most fishery scientists are claiming for better country quotas, under a Total Allowable Catch (TAC) that is safe for the sustainability of the stock, and for ICCAT to listen to the scientific advice and reduce the TAC in order to keep the fish stocks healthy. Some Environmental NGOs advocate for stopping tuna fisheries, or at least to ban specific fisheries for a certain period to let the stock recover. The TAC and the country quotas are discussed every year under ICCAT mandate, and Brazil, on the international level, has been claiming to have a fair quota, as well as to have a TAC which is in conformity with the scientific advice. The problem is that Brazil, due to the lack of monitoring, does not know well what it has been catching, and due to the political instability it has not been able to report its catches properly either. So, in this case, Brazil first has the obligation to commit to clear its own house and organize itself, and only then, claim a better position in the international scenario.

Read the article

Gonçalves, Leandra Regina. (2019). The role of Brazil in the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 62(2), e001. Epub July 04, 2019.

About the authors

Leandra Regina Gonçalves, Universidade de São Paulo, Instituto de Oceanografia, São Paulo, Brazil (

Roberta Moreira, Communication Consultant – Environmental Rights at UN Environment

How to cite this interview

aclessa, "The role of Brazil in the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), interview with Leandra Gonçalves, by Roberta Moreira," in Instituto Brasileiro de Relações Internacionais, 02/08/2019,
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