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Rescuing the Mediterranean Tuna

EU - Tuna lives in open waters beyond the territorial reach of nations, therefor a multinational agreement on how much tuna can be fished is hard to come by. Poor management by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has led to the near depletion of the Mediterranean bluefin.

In a bid to reverse this trend, at the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona last week both Spain and Japan supported the closure of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery until stocks rise.

The Economist says that the ICCAT recently commissioned an independent performance review of itself. The reviewers noted that ICCAT’s management of the bluefin tuna population is “widely regarded as an international disgrace”.

Each year the organisation allocates unsupportably large bluefin quotas, in the full knowledge that they will be massively exceeded because there are no effective real-time monitoring mechanisms. ICCAT's own scientific committee reckons that 61,000 tonnes of tuna were taken from the Mediterranean in 2007—twice the legal quota. This sort of overkill seems to be fairly typical.

There are further fears that a great deal of fish is caught illegally and never recorded. Ms Parkes says that there are several ports that registered for the landing of tuna that have links with organised crime, at which not a single tuna has been recorded as having been landed.

Worse still, in the last decade there has been an explosion of something called “tuna ranching” in many European nations. Here tuna are rounded up and penned rather than being landed (hence they do not count against the quota), becoming a form of aquaculture to be fattened up and sold on a few years later. They don’t breed, and no fish are added back to the wild population. As aquaculture, they may even be able to qualify for European subsidies.