Bloated fishing fleets hunting last bluefin tuna

Posted: 12 March 2008

International fishing fleets, which have decimated bluefin tuna stocks in the past few decades, have twice the fishing capacity of current quotas and are netting more than three and a half times the catch levels recommended by scientists to avoid stock collapse, a new report reveals.

Bluefin tuna
Bluefin tuna
Bluefin tuna. © M San Felix
The report, from WWF, uncovers "a system long out ofcontrol, where hundreds of hi-tech boats are racing to catch a handful of fish," says Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

"The failure of international fisheries management has allowed a monster to thrive in the Mediterranean. Decision-makers must be bold if the bluefin is to be saved from a sorry fate - and for any chance of a future for Mediterranean tuna fishermen."

To keep fishing capacity within the 2008 legal catch limits imposed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the Mediterranean fleet would need to shed 229 vessels - almost a third of the current 617-vessel fleet. Reducing fishing effort to scientifically recommended levels would require the decommissioning of 283 vessels.

At a minimum, the report shows the present Mediterranean fleets would have to fish 42,000 tonnes of tuna just to cover costs - implying some 13,000 tonnes of illegal catch. This calculation considers only the more technically advanced vessels built in the past decade - the full picture will be much worse yet. Yet in spite of the overcapacity of fleets, at least 25new purse seine vessels were still being constructed.

Fishing season

Purse seine used to catch tuna
Purse seine used to catch tuna
Purse seines are enormous bag-like nets that are set around a tuna school then pulled closed from beneath. They are the only method that allows the mobile harvesting of live tuna - essential for the recent practice of fattening tuna in cages for the Japanese sushi and sashimi market. Photo © WWF-Canon/ Helene Petit
"It is crazy - the numerous new fleets are so modern and costly that fishermen are forced to fish illegally just to survive - and worse still they are fishing themselves out of a job," added Dr Tudela.

WWF is calling on concerned countries to dramatically reduce capacity in this fishery as a matter of urgency ahead of the 2008 fishing season that starts at the end of April. WWF also urges ICCAT, the body whose job it is yo see that the fishery is sustainably managed, to take a lead in proposing radical solutions. Until the fishery is under control and sustainably managed, WWF continues to advocate a fishing ban - and to applaud responsible retailers, restaurants, chefs and consumer groups who are boycotting Mediterranean bluefin in increasing numbers.

"The fishery is unsustainable in every way - economically, socially, and ecologically. When will the situation be brought under control? The time to act is now - while there are still bluefin tuna to save in the Mediterranean," Dr Tudela said.

The new WWF report, Race for the last bluefin, can be downloaded at: www.panda.org/tuna.

NOTE: WWF's report - the first ever real quantification of fleet capacity -is based on a study by independent consultancy Advanced Tuna Ranching Technologies (ATRT SL ©®â„¢). Its estimates are likely to be highly conservative. Only the capacity of the purse seine vessels that catch most bluefin tuna is considered in WWF's estimates for reduction needs. The full situation is likely to be much worse in view of overcapacity in other fishingmethods such as long-lining.