Illegal fishers ravage bluefin tuna

Posted: 5 July 2006

Bluefin tuna stocks in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean are being stripped bare by illegal and unscrupulous fishing, warns a new report. If these stocks are to be saved, the fishery must be closed immediately, says WWF.

Bluefin tuna in farm. © M. San Felix
Bluefin tuna in farm. © M. San Felix
Bluefin tuna in farm© M. San Felix
Over the two years, 2004-2005, Britain imported 1,613 tonnes of processed fresh and frozen bluefin tuna, which exclusively came from the Mediterranean, worth some £8.6 million. This demand has been fuelled by the growth of "fast-sushi-bars" and the meteoric expansion of e-commerce and retail sales by major retail stores and supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda.

The independent study commissioned by WWF, reveals the full extent of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing for bluefin tuna.

Fleets from the EU (mainly France), Libya and Turkey are the main offenders. These countries are greatly exceeding their fishing quotas and deliberately failing to report much of their massive catches - thereby also avoiding paying taxes and bypassing sensible management - says the report.

The 42-nation International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) - where the EU plays a major role - is responsible for regulating the fishery. However, the annual fishing quota of 32,000 tonnes, set by ICCAT, was smashed by more than 40 per cent in 2004 with a catch of 44,948 tonnes, rising to 45,547 in 2005. Real catches are likely to amount to well over 50,000 tonnes - a figure confirmed by the ICCAT scientific committee.

"The European Commission risks bearing witness to the collapse of this centuries-old fishery," said Dr Simon Cripps, Director of WWF's Global Marine Programme. "We urge EU Fisheries Commissioner Borg to show leadership and call for an immediate total closure of the fishery, and request that he supports strong management measures at this November's ICCAT meeting that guarantee a future for the fishery."

Traditional tuna trap, Zahara de los Atúnes
Traditional tuna trap, Zahara de los Atúnes
Traditional tuna trap, Zahara de los Atúnes, Spain© WWF Spain/R. García
The report also reveals deliberate misreporting and laundering of bluefin tuna catches. Unreported tuna catches are increasingly slaughtered and processed at sea before being shipped out on board enormous vessels destined for the lucrative Japanese market.

In addition to calling for an immediate closure of the fishery, WWF urges ICCAT members to adopt a sustainable recovery plan for Atlantic bluefin tuna which must include a dramatic reduction in tuna fishing and farming capacity, improved enforcement and reporting.

Source: The report 'The plunder of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and East Atlantic in 2004 and 2005 - Uncovering the real story' was researched and written by Advanced Tuna Ranching Technologies (ATRT SL ©®*), an independent consultancy.

Related links:

Mediterranean bluefin tuna near collapse

Tuna fished to 'near extinction'

Deep sea fish face extinction