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Great expectations were generated among the various stakeholders in the giant squid fishing value chain regarding the decisions that could have been adopted during the twelfth Meeting of the SPRFMO Commission.

Between January 29th and February 2nd, delegations from the member countries of the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO) gathered in the city of Manta, Ecuador, to discuss proposals aimed at improving the sustainability and performance of giant squid fisheries in international waters.

Delegations from various countries, prior to said meeting, presented a series of proposals to the secretariat of the SPRFMO to be discussed during the sessions. These proposals focused on improving inclusivity and effectiveness in decision-making, promoting proper management of giant squid, and strengthening port surveillance to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

However, the decisions made during the SPRFMO meeting left a bitter taste, reflecting a decrease in accountability and inclusion. For example, prior to its discussion, unexpected resistance arose from the Chinese delegation towards a proposal aimed at facilitating the gradual implementation of the use of Spanish in Commission meetings, an act that surprised representatives from Chile, Ecuador, and Peru.

Pascual Aguilera, leader of the National Coordinator of Squid Fishermen of Chile, mentions that it is important for countries to have a more assertive and strong involvement in these meetings. “It is not possible that, being squid a resource that essentially occurs on the coast of Spanish-speaking countries, the forum regulating this fishery is conducted in English. This undoubtedly puts us at a disadvantage when we have to defend our positions in discussions.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, the world's largest seafood buyers expressed their strong concern about illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing and its close relationship with serious allegations of human rights and labor violations against workers in the giant squid fishery. The most positive news from the meeting was the SPRFMO's endorsement of an unprecedented decision on labor standards, addressing reported human rights abuses in distant water fleets. Ecuador, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia were the countries that presented two innovative proposals in this regard.

Despite high expectations, the results of the measures adopted at the twelfth SPRFMO meeting have been unsatisfactory for key stakeholders in the giant squid fishery.

Proposals such as implementing the use of Spanish as a second language in SPRFMO meetings to ensure that Spanish-speaking countries can have a more active and equitable participation in discussions were not approved on this occasion. The urgent need to immediately adopt a minimum observer coverage of 10% of fishing days ended up being softened, with a minimum coverage of 2% approved for ships that fished in 2022 and did not reach the minimum of 5%.

Although the proposals of the Agreement on Port State Measures were not adopted, a working group for monitoring and surveillance, led by Ecuador and the United States, was established. Additionally, the establishment of a "area of concern" to address the lack of knowledge about ecosystem impacts will be reviewed at the next meeting of the Scientific Committee, to be held in September in the city of Lima.

Alfonso Miranda, president of CALAMASUR, expressed his profound dismay by stating, "The Commission did not seize the unique opportunity to advance in crucial areas of monitoring, control, and surveillance in a fishery that still requires the assurance of reliable and timely data provided by fleets, especially those operating far from their landing ports in areas very close to the South American coast in the Convention Area," he said.

Thus, the twelfth meeting of the SPRFMO concluded, leaving a bitter taste among participants, observers, and various actors involved in the value chain who were anticipating more. With an eye on the future, the community linked to the giant squid fishery hopes that the next Scientific Committee of the SPRFMO effectively addresses the pending challenges. It will be a pivotal moment to demonstrate commitment to sustainability and justice in the management of our marine resources. The synergy between collective action and political will be crucial to turning these hopes into reality.

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