Efforts to save tuna fisheries so far a 'total failure'

Posted: 28 June 2009

Countries that have signed up to the international tuna treaty have totally failed to come up with ways to cap fishing capacity, conservationists report. Most are failing to follow the advice of their own scientists and together they are making only slow progress in reducing illegal fishing, overfishing and bycatch of other marine life.

Three scorecards, produced by WWF for the regional fisheries meeting which opened in San Sebastain, Spain, today, found that not one of the 80 governments involved is doing a good job in any area. Most are making slow progress and have room for improvement, but some are falling miserably in important areas.

Frozen Tunas
Frozen Tunas
Frozen Tunas to be auctioned at the Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo. Photo © WWF-Canon/Michel GUNTHER
Governments are performing most poorly in the conservation and management of tuna stocks, with little advance in reducing the size and capacity of the fleets chasing fewer and fewer fish..

All 23 commercially exploited stocks of tuna are heavily fished, with at least nine classified as fully fished and a further four classified as overexploited or depleted. Three stocks are classified as Critically Endangered, three as Endangered, and three as Vulnerable to extinction.

"Our assessment shows a resource in trouble, fisheries in trouble and institutions in trouble," said Miguel Jorge, Marine Director at WWF International. "But we believe there is still time to protect key ocean ecosystems where tuna is a top predator, and conserve the fisheries and the communities that depend on them."

Heading for collapse

"We now have too much experience to ignore on how fast over-exploited fisheries collapse and how slowly, if at all, they recover. With Bluefin tuna none of the collapsed populations are recovering and the remaining populations are clearly heading towards collapse."

WWF asked the meeting to do more to prevent bycatch of turtles, sharks, juvenile tuna and other animals. Key measures will involve more effective regulation of the bycatch problem including the use of equipment known as Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs).

Tuna fishing, Sardinia, Italy. Photo: Antonio Pais/FAO
Tuna fishing, Sardinia, Italy. Photo: Antonio Pais/FAO
Tuna fishing. A raised landing net brings the tuna to the surface in Sardinia, Italy.© Antonio Pais/FAO
"We know enough right now for governments to immediately adopt and implement best-practices to avoid bycatch," said Jorge. "Even best-practices can be improved, so ongoing research and on-the-water trials are critical to bring bycatch as close to zero as possible."

WWF's assessment traced progress on key fisheries management measures since the first global meeting of governments involved in tuna fisheries, in Kobe, Japan in 2007. That meeting agreed on a 14 point action plan for all RFMOs.

"So far, we haven't seen much action," said Jorge. "We know what needs to be done. What we would like to see from San Sebastian are clear signs that the community of tuna nations is setting up global consensus on real moves towards addressing the key issues of over-capacity and bycatch.

"We know it won't be easy, but there are no other choices."

NOTE: Today's meeting incldes representatives from all five tuna related Regional Fisheries Management Organisations. These were set up to conserve and protect Southern Bluefin tuna as well as tuna species in the Inter-American region and in the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and the Western and Central Pacific regions.

Bluefin tuna can reach over 4 metres in length and average around 250kg in weight. When chasing prey they travel at speeds of 70 plus kilometres per hour. But the bluefin tuna stock in the Mediterranean Sea is at serious risk of collapse. A massive and hi-tech commerical fishing fleet and illegal fishing could mean that this magnificent species is gone from Mediterranean waters. See more at www.panda.org

Related links:

Bloated fishing fleets hunting last bluefin tuna

Commission decision threatens future of bluefin tuna