With the species at four per cent of its historic population size, conservation efforts will now turn to a global push for a suspension of commercial bluefin fishing in the eastern Pacific to prevent the species’ further downward slide.
“The countries involved in the eastern Pacific bluefin tuna fishery have allowed overfishing to continue for decades and now, facing the dire consequences of inaction, there is still no agreement on a sufficient cut in quota that is based in science and will allow this species to recover,” said Amanda Nickson, director of global tuna conservation for The Pew Charitable Trusts.
“Despite strong remarks from some countries about the need for science-based catch limits and better management of this species, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission demonstrated a woeful inability to deliver the right outcome to begin restoring the population of these fish. In such circumstances, with this species so depleted, there is no other option than to seek a suspension of commercial fishing for this species in the eastern Pacific until adequate measures are in place.”
This week, member countries of the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) agreed to allow fishermen in the eastern Pacific to catch 6,600 metric tons of bluefin over the next two years, with commercial catches in 2015 of up to 3,500 metric tons.
That could result in 30 per cent more of these fish being caught in 2015 than what scientists say will allow the population to begin to recover, and the measure does not include next steps for a basin-wide rebuilding plan for the species.
“The science is clear – an annual catch limit that does not exceed 2,750 metric tons in the eastern Pacific would help get this species back on track to recovery. That’s the first step. But members of the IATTC did not take it. The commission also did not address the need for a comprehensive, basin-wide rebuilding plan to return the Pacific bluefin population to 25 per cent of its unfished size within 10 years. The plan should also ensure that management measures are effective and complementary on both sides of the Pacific. Without it, this species runs a very serious risk of population collapse.
“Based on the lack of action this week, it is clear that commercial fishing for Pacific Bluefin tuna should be suspended across IATTC waters until the appropriate catch limits are in place.”
“Although the quota does not take into account recreational catch, which can amount to more than 500 metric tons every year, there have been promising signs from many recreational anglers in the US who recognise their role in ensuring future generations have an opportunity to experience this fishery. There has been increasing support from the recreational fishing community on the west coast of the US for implementing responsible management measures, and this type of leadership is urgently needed at the commercial level.“
In contrast to this week’s management breakdown, in September, members of the Northern Committee of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) agreed to cut the catch of juvenile bluefin in western and central Pacific waters by 50 per cent from the average level seen between 2002 and 2004.
The committee also supported measures to maintain the catch of adults at or below the baseline level for those years. The full commission meets in December to consider these measures. Further necessary action includes agreement on a basin-wide rebuilding plan – current targets proposed in the West would only lead to a 2.7 per cent increase, relative to unfished levels, in the population over 10 years, leaving it still severely depleted.
Nickson added: “It is possible that further action will need to consider the possibility of a proposed listing of this species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). If the regional fisheries management organizations cannot effectively manage this species according to the science, in a unified way, then other international tools, like a CITES listing, may be required.”