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European Commission on Alert to Illegal Bluefin Tuna Fishing

Tuna Sustainability Economics +4 more

EU - The European Commission has responded to information released by the WWF stating that two non-EU vessels have been seen in bluefin tuna fishing grounds in the Mediterranean over the last two weeks.

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According to WWF, two large non-Mediterranean fleets have been spotted in some of the main Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishing grounds over the last two weeks. Such a presence during the fishing season has caused WWF to raise serious concerns that some boats might be operating in contravention of international bluefin tuna conservation rules.

The substantial presence of irregular foreign vessels in the Mediterranean, added to an evident decrease in the control zeal of nations involved in this fishery, is a reminder of the situation observed in the early nineties.

What we have uncovered from AIS radio signals of fishing vessels in the Mediterranean looks like history repeating itself, said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of WWF Mediterranean Fisheries Programme.

After a few years of tighter controls, it seems that were heading back to the situation we had more than a decade ago, when fishing pressure soared to peak levels that threatened the population with collapse.

A first fleet refers to a minimum of 13 Chinese vessels, and is named after FU YUAN YU. The second fleet includes a minimum of eight vessels with an unknown flag. None of these vessels is authorized to fish for bluefin tuna.

The FU YUAN YU fleet crossed the Mediterranean from Suez to Gibraltar, before leaving the region on 26 May. After passing through the Sicily Channel, AIS signals were shut off for more than two days. In reply to requests for clarification the Chinese authorities have stated that the fleet is heading towards Mauritania.

A second fleet, under an unknown flag, has also repeatedly been detected in the western Mediterranean, including within the Spanish Fisheries Protection Zone in the Balearic Sea, one of the major fishing areas for bluefin tuna. Most of the vessels in this fleet have been located off the coast of western Algeria, near the Alboran Sea.

WWF immediately submitted this information to the The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) Secretariat and the European Commission, while urging the relevant national fishing authorities to carry out on-board inspections of the vessels in order to rule out any legitimate suspicion of illegal fishing of bluefin tuna.

Despite cumulative signs of potential illegal fishing, and our repeated real-time communication to all the relevant management bodies, including ICCAT, the European Commission and countries like Spain and Italy, to our knowledge no at-sea inspections have taken place so far, added Dr Tudela.

The European Commission has swiftly triggered the relevant procedures, providing national authorities with the information received from WWF and is requesting them to collect information on the identification, flag and activities of the vessels, as well as their owners.

The Commission has also recommended, where possible, to carry out inspections of the vessels and collecting all necessary information on-board (catch data, landings, transhipments, VMS positions, fishing gears, etc).

In parallel, the European Fisheries Control Agency alerted the Authorities in Las Palmas but the Chinese vessels did not stop there in the end. The Chinese vessels have now left EU waters.

Commissioner Maria Damanaki commented: "I do thank national authorities and NGOs that cooperate with the Commission in order to fight illegal fishing activities, for the valuable input. We systematically check all the information available and in cooperation with the enforcement authorities and the European Fisheries Control Agency will immediately react and take action against IUU activities: we are on alert".