Tuna quota still 'too big to save species'

Posted: 16 November 2009

The international commission responsible for managing stocks of bluefin tuna in the North Atlantic, meeting in Brazil, has failed to agree on measures that will ensure the recovery of the species.

It has endorsed a proposal to drop the 2010 eastern bluefin quota from 19,500 tonnes to 13,500 tonnes, but this is still far too high to enable stock recovery, says WWF. As a result, the conservation agency is renewing its calls for an international trade ban in Atlantic bluefin tuna. A study presented to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in Recife, showed that even a strictly enforced 8,000-tonne quota would have only a 50 per cent chance of achieving a recovery in eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna by 2023. Another ICCAT study showed only a total fishing halt yielded significant chances of the bluefin population recovering enough to no longer qualify for high-level trade restrictions by 2019.

Frozen Tunas
Frozen Tunas
Frozen Tunas to be auctioned at the Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo. Photo © WWF-Canon/Michel GUNTHER
Sally Bailey, Marine Programme Manager at WWF-UK said: "Now, more than ever, WWF sees a global trade ban as the only hope for Atlantic bluefin. ICCAT's reduction in quota is not based on scientific advice, and is entirely unacceptable."

WWF had lobbied the meeting for a fishing suspension and determined action against illegal fishing, which inflates the most recent (2008) catch estimates of 34,120 tonnes. During the Recife meeting almost all harvesting countries were formally identified by ICCAT as breaking its rules - like EU tuna fattening farms accepting fish without proper documentation. The massive overcapacity of industrial fleets in the Mediterranean also continues to hamper conservation efforts, yet the problem remains insufficiently addressed by the tuna commission.

Sanctuaries needed

The season for industrial fishing for bluefin tuna with purse seine fleets was reduced from two months to one, but remains open during the peak of the spawning period of 15 May to 15 June when the tuna are most vulnerable.

Bluefin tuna in farm. © M. San Felix
Bluefin tuna in farm. © M. San Felix
Bluefin tuna in farm© M. San Felix
Conservationists say that ICCAT also continued to ignore long-standing calls to establish sanctuaries in key bluefin tuna spawning grounds such as the Balearic Islands off Spain.

They argue that it is now vital that member countries of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) line up behind global trade restrictions on Atlantic bluefin tuna. CITES is to consider a proposal by Monaco that Atlantic bluefin be listed for the highest level of trade restrictions at a meeting in Doha next March.

Adding more fuel to what WWF called 'the compelling case of ICCAT's overall failure', contracting parties endorsed a further two years of the use by Morocco of illegal driftnets to catch swordfish. The nets, known widely as 'walls of death', kill 4,000 dolphins and 25,000 sharks in Mediterranean waters every year.

Bans on driftnets are covered in a large array of international agreements dating back to 1992 and including the UN, ICCAT, the EU which is the main market for the Moroccan swordfish, and Morocco itself.

"This year all contracting parties talked of the need to restore ICCAT's credibility, and to do so they endorse the slaughter of 50,000 more sharks and 8,000 dolphins, violating UN resolutions? It is beyond belief, and is one more proof of the total dysfunction of ICCAT as a serious fisheries management organization," said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

Related links:

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

ICCAT