Mediterranean bluefin tuna near collapse

Posted: 25 May 2006

At the start of the commercial fishing season of the bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, traditional tuna-trap fishermen in Southern Spain are facing an unprecedented crisis. Catches are down by a staggering 80 per cent on this time last year, according to the Tuna Trap Producers Association.

WWF says it is alarmed at this concrete demonstration that the entire Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery is now bordering on collapse.

"Six hundred families dependent on the tuna trap fishery are on the verge of ruin in Southern Spain, like hundreds more across the Mediterranean," said Marta Crespo, Director General of the Association. "Humanity is losing a magnificent species as well as over 3,000 years of history. What is the EU waiting for?"

Tuna farming - the fattening of wild bluefin tuna in cages - is driven mainly by the Japanese market demand for sushi. This has dramatically increased the amount of bluefin tuna caught from an already overexploited stock in the Mediterranean by a growing industrial fleet.

Increasing farming capacity in turn urges industrial fleets to catch even more tuna - regardless of the fact that population levels are very low. Industrial fishermen will go to any lengths to increase catch size, sometimes including illegal activity. WWF fears that EU fleets will again this year contravene international fishing regulations in the Mediterranean.

Illegal catch

The latest figures on tuna farming capacity officially reported to ICCAT show an increase of 8,500 tonnes over the last two months. This has resulted in a total authorised farming capacity of 51,012 tonnes. WWF says itr is shocking that ICCAT - having previously established a total allowable catch of the bluefin tuna stock of 32,000 tonnes - is authorising such an inflated farming capacity, which cannot be matched with catch size. This is clearly encouraging 20,000 tonnes of bluefin tuna to be illegally caught.

The EU plays a major role in the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) - the most important body for the regulation of the bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean - and must take the initiative to drive forward effective recovery and management measures, says WWF. The conservation organisation wants to see an extension of the seasonal closure for industrial tuna fishing in the Mediterranean, and improved regulation. It says it is now or never to save the bluefin tuna - this year is the defining moment for the species' survival.

"One of the most important fisheries in the world is showing strong signs of collapse. Given its responsibility in this fishery, the EU has to take the lead at ICCAT in conservation and management measures," said Sergi Tudela, Fisheries Officer at the WWF Mediterranean Programme Office.

"If an urgent recovery plan is not approved this year - including tighter quotas - it is highly likely that this fishery will disappear entirely in the very near future".

  • In a separate development this week, EU Fisheries Ministers, with the support of the European Commission, indicated that they are poised to spend hundreds of millions of euros on new engines for Europe's already over-sized fishing fleet. Should this happen, the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) will be seriously compromised, warns WWF.

    The conservation organisation said the compromise proposal to beef up Europe's fishing fleet, put forward by the EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg, is the latest in a series of backward moves from the European Commission and would reverse the 2002 Fisheries Council decision not to fund increased fishing capacity.

    "Providing fishermen with new engines for their boats when there is no sustainable fisheries management in place is at best alarmingly short-sighted and at worst consigning the fishing industry to failure", wrote Jim Leape, WWF's Director General, in a letter to President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso. "This is a complete U-turn on the commitments of the 2002 Common Fisheries Policy reform", he added.

  • Source: WWF

    Related link:

    Tuna fished to 'near extinction'