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Bluefin Tuna Fishery Closed to Save its Future

by Ellen Hardy
19 June 2008, at 1:00am

EU - The European fisheries commissioner Joe Borg has decided to close the fishery for Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and the Eastern Atlantic as for all purse seiners flying the flags of Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy and Malta.

The order was brought in on Monday this week and in the case of Spain, the purse seine fishery will be closed as of 23 June.

"Overcapacity in the purse seine fleet has not been addressed and the level of fishing activity is similar to that seen last year, when the Community considerably overfished its quota," Commissioner Borg said.

"The European Commission has in its possession all the data needed to establish that the EU purse seine fleet has now exhausted its quota. Our decision is based on the most detailed analysis of the fishery, using multiple sources of information which have been cross-checked against one another on a daily basis.

"This year again, the fishery has been marred by countless failures to properly implement the rules which have been agreed at international level to manage the Bluefin tuna stock sustainably. For example, we know of eight French purse seine vessels which have spent up to 21 days fishing since the start of the season, but have so far declared no catches.

"At this moment in time, half the French fleet have caught nothing according to official figures, while the other half declare that they have caught over 90 per cent of their individual quotas, although all the vessels show similar activity rates.

"We are also aware of eight Italian purse seine vessels which, according to official figures, have overshot their quota by between 100 and 240per cent. In addition, we have now definitely identified at least eight spotter planes (out of possibly more than 20) which have worked, and continue to work, in coordination with EU vessels to help them identify Bluefin tuna shoals, even though the use of spotter planes is completely illegal.

"Despite these facts, certain Member States have nevertheless asked for the closure of the fishery to be suspended.

"The Commission is convinced that the many failures of implementation and control which we have been noted since the start of the campaign have made it exceedingly difficult for the Member States to monitor their own fleets' Bluefin tuna catches accurately.

"These failures of implementation include, but are not limited to: unreliable catch declarations, failure to respect reporting deadlines, delays in submission of fishing plans, and failure to communicate satellite data on the movements of the vessels concerned.

"The Commission, therefore, cannot seriously be expected to consider their very poorly based request to suspend its well-founded decision."

The commissioner added: "This decision to close the fishery only for the purse seine fleet is not only necessary to protect the stock and to respect the Community's international obligations. It is also vital to ensure fairness with the small-scale artisanal fleet that has not yet fished its quota.

"The high season for the artisanal fleet normally starts around this time. The small-scale fleets which will now benefit from the continued high demand and high prices for Bluefin tuna.

"The Bluefin tuna stock has suffered greatly from many years of overfishing, in particular by the European industrial fleet.

"Any repeat of the overfishing seen last year could easily lead to the collapse of the stock, and thus to the definitive closure of the fishery for the foreseeable future, with disastrous consequences to all the fleets and fishermen that depend on it.

"It is therefore both my duty and the Commission's responsibility to ensure that the stock is protected and that the measures agreed upon to recover the stock are fully respected and implemented, so that fishers will be able to fish for tuna again next year.

This is what I am working for – to ensure a sustainable future for European fisheries. I will continue to do whatever is necessary to ensure that our fishing industry really does have a future."

Ellen Hardy