Governments fail to stop tuna plunder

Posted: 1 February 2007

Government members of the world's five tuna regional management organizations, meeting in Japan, have failed to agree an action plan to help reverse the decline in tuna stocks and stop the plundering of these valuable species.

Governments attending the talks in Kobe failed to agree on concrete action to reduce fishing capacity to sustainable levels, ensure legally caught supplies of tuna to markets, reduce the fisheries' bycatch of species like turtles, seabirds and sharks and ensure that developing countries can enter tuna fisheries sustainably.

Despite Japan and other government's admission that tuna stocks are in a critical state, that urgent action is needed, and that solutions already exist, they have failed to agree any concrete actions. Their only agreement was to gather more data and talk more often.

The conservation organisation WWF, which has been battling for action to save tuna stocks, believes this inaction will result in further depletion of tuna populations, degradation of the oceans, loss of tuna to eat, and ultimately to a loss of livelihoods across the world.

Officials to blame

"Tax payers should hold these officials responsible for failing to do their duty to protect the tuna we eat and the environment we are dependent on," said Dr Simon Cripps, Director of WWF's Global Marine Programme. "More than 200 officials have travelled to Japan with little achieved except a plan to hold more meetings".

WWF says despite the efforts by some governments within tuna Regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) which are mainly reponsible for managing fisheries in the high seas, global tuna stocks are critically depleted and some species, such as bluefin tuna, used forhigh-end sushi and sashimi, are at high risk of collapse.

Frozen Tunas
Frozen Tunas
Frozen Tunas to be auctioned at the Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo. Photo © WWF-Canon/Michel GUNTHER

"As governments are failing to do their job, we must look for other solutions" ays WWF. "Recent pledges from major retailers, such as Wal-Mart, and demand for seafood from well managed stocks, such as those with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) ecolabel, give consumers the option to support the legitimate fishing sector and by-pass intransigent government officials.

"Governments wasted the opportunity to show global leadership to ensure a future for tuna and dependent fishing communities, especiallysmall island states," added Dr Cripps. "The spotlight now turns onto the responsible fishing industry and the retail sector. We theconsumers need to give them our support"

WWF urged the members of ICCAT, meeting in Tokyo, to close the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery during the entire spawning season and to halve the current quota to retrieve the stock from the brink of commercial extinction.

Death sentence

But as WWF later reported "Governments have completely failed yet again to put in place sustainable management measures for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and East Atlantic - effectively signing the death sentence for the species."

"The result of this meeting will be the law of the jungle. The massacre has now been rubberstamped and allowed to continue at full speed," said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean. "Strong trade measures for bluefin tuna are now the only option."

ICCAT members failed to agree on quota allocation - with Libya and Turkey setting their own quotas outside of agreed catch limits. This would mean an annual catch of 32,414 tonnes in 2007 - beyond the 32,000 tonnes allowed in 2006, whilst WWF and international scientists had called for a total allowable catch of 15,000 tonnes if the species is to survive in the long term.

In addition, following Libya's objections to the proposed ICCAT plan, the 2007 fishery will remain totally unpoliced until at least 1st August. This will leave bluefin tuna vulnerable to massive overfishing during its critical breeding season of May through July.

"This is one of the worst crises in international fisheries we have ever seen," said Dr Simon Cripps, Director of WWF's Global Marine Programme. "ICCAT has proved it is incapable of responsible fisheries management."

Related links:

For more information about the Tuna Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs), see www.tuna-org.org

For WWF's recent briefing 'Tuna in Trouble: major problems for theworld's tuna fisheries' see www.panda.org/marine

For WWF's High Seas Initiative, sponsored by Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, see www.2wglobal.com