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Enforcing Bluefin Tuna Recovery

GENERAL - The second week of negotiations has kicked off in Paris of ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas. ICCATs headline fishery is East Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna, severely overfished and on the brink of collapse.

With negotiations in place, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is urging ICCAT to put in place a robust, science-based management plan that will allow Atlantic bluefin tuna to recover.

n a recent assessment of the bluefin tuna stocks in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea, ICCAT's Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (SCRS) published a damning assessment of the state of eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna, showing that current levels of the fragile spawning biomass are barely one third of sustainable levels. Tuna is a slow-developing species, so stock status does not change significantly between assessments.

WWF say that a very significant share of all BFT harvested in Mediterranean waters qualifies as illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUU). Total actual catches of BFT stock in the Mediterranean have been up to 100 per cent higher than the official quota set by ICCAT for the large part of at least the past decade.

The organisation, WWF, believes that ICCAT has repeatedly failed to impose effective management measures on the eastern Atlantic BFT fishery – setting total allowable catches (TAC) at much greater levels than those recommended by even its own scientists.

In November 2008, ICCAT was recommended by its own scientific advisory committee to set the annual quota at between 8,500 tonnes and 15,000 tonnes, and to close the fishery during the entire spawning season of May, June and July – while an independent review panel of the fishery recommended an immediate closure of the fishery – but ICCAT contracting parties adopted a TAC of 22,000 tonnes.

In a recent independent investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), it is estimated that between 1998 and 2007 there was a black market worth some $US 4 billion (2.9 billion €).

Total annual allowable catch for the whole fishery should be reduced to less than half the current one, which has already made some Mediterranean bluefin tuna fisheries economically unviable. Italy established for 2010 a moratorium for its purse seine fishery and committed to scrap most of the fleet.

France, meanwhile – aware of the overcapacity of its fleet – was one of the main supporters of temporarily banning international trade through an Appendix I listing on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in March 2010 in Doha, Qatar. This would also have implied the closure of its purse seine fishery – considered necessary to save thousands of artisanal fishermen from ruin.

For the division of remaining quota, priority should be given to the artisanal sector which is more sustainable but more vulnerable – and represents the highest proportion of fishermen and dependent families. Just in Spain, for example, the artisanal tuna fishing sector represents 2,200 fishermen and the purse seine sector less than 100.

The maintenance of only six purse seine vessels in Spain is putting at stake the livelihoods of the whole artisanal sector. Other Mediterranean countries with large purse seine fleets include Croatia, Libya and Turkey.

The ICCAT meeting ends on Saturday 27th November.

the Fish Site Editor

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