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Meeting this month, the Contracting Parties tothe International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will again determinemanagement measures for a range of tunas and tuna-like species.

At the 22nd annual meeting in Istanbul from 11 to 19 November, 2011, the Contracting Parties to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will again determine management measures for a range of tunas and tuna-like species. WWF will be present at the meeting to follow closely the issues related to the Atlantic bluefin tuna, whose stocks are still severely depleted.

A key species on the agenda this year, for the first time, is another of the world’s most majestic, most commercially valuable – and most exploited – marine species: the Mediterranean swordfish. The situation is particularly critical as no management plan has ever been designed for this species which is, like tuna, highly overfished.

What WWF expects from ICCAT

On Atlantic bluefin tuna

1 - Sustainable management of the BFT fishery still needs to be achieved and IUU must be fully eradicated.

Although huge efforts have been made in the last few years, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing remains widespread in the Mediterranean. A recent study by WWF raises concern over the high levels of fishing capacity still present in the Mediterranean. According to this study, even after the implementation of a drastic fleet capacity reduction plan by ICCAT, the current fleet targeting bluefin tuna in the East Atlantic and the Mediterranean still has the potential to catch much higher amounts of fish per year than the current TAC (total allowable catch); this leaves ample room for IUU fishing.

“Fleet overcapacity is a key driver for overfishing; capacity reduction achieved in the past few years is still far from ending overcapacity, as potential catch rates have been highly underestimated by managers. How is it possible that the individual quotas allocated to each vessel by national governments are in many cases far higher than the vessels’ catch capacity estimated by ICCAT? ” says Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

2 - An electronic Bluefin Catch Document (eBCD) must be urgently implemented to address some of the traceability shortcomings and track in real-time bluefin tuna through the market chain.

WWF has been working for the last 10 years to improve the management of the East Atlantic and Mediterranean stock of bluefin tuna. From the very beginning (2002), one of our key asks was to set up a system enabling the complete traceability of tuna harvests, as a tool to fight IUU fishing.

“The current bluefin tuna catch documentation scheme, based on handwritten paperwork is not workable and makes real time monitoring an impossible task: an electronic system is the only possible way forward,” says Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

3 - ICCAT Contracting Parties must either ensure full traceability in farms or ban farming practices in case this is not technically feasible.

ICCAT requested pilot studies to be conducted during 2011 on new methods to assess volumes and numbers of live fish transferred to the cages; unfortunately, the information reported this year to ICCAT falls very short of delivering any valid system. In short, traceability in farms continues to be impossible. Furthermore, a new study by an independent expert presented this year shows that biomass growth in farms is typically much lower than that reported by the farming industry (only 20-30 per cent, compared to given values of over 100 per cent), which raises concern over the potential for laundering catches in farms.

“15 years after tuna farming started in the Mediterranean, farms are still black boxes rendering traceability an impossible task. WWF calls on ICCAT to either find a technical solution enabling full traceability in farms without delay or ban the practice of tuna farming completely,” says Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

4 - WWF fully supports the EU initiative to adopt the means to ensure that the best possible scientific advice is used to adopt management recommendations for the bluefin tuna fishery.

Next year is going to be crucial for ICCAT, as a new stock assessment will be carried out. Unfortunately, the methodology currently used doesn’t satisfactorily address the high uncertainty in the available data. Even the EU Commission has asked for a review of the work of ICCAT’s scientific committee (SCRS).

“ICCAT has to speed up the current work to improve the scientific assessment of Atlantic bluefin tuna populations; next year’s decisions need to rely on solid science,” says Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

On Mediterranean swordfish

1 - Unless we take immediate action, swordfish will follow the same fate as bluefin tuna and face high risk of collapse.

Mediterranean swordfish fishery underwent a rapid expansion in the late 1980s resulting in a severe stock biomass decline. The current fishery is based on juvenile, sexually immature fish. The increasing lack of spawners in the sea not only undermines the productivity of the fishery but also puts its survival at risk.

“A scientifically-based recovery plan for Mediterranean swordfish needs to be urgently adopted by ICCAT in order to avoid further deterioration of the stock and risk of collapse,” says Dr Susana Sainz-Trapaga, Fisheries Officer at WWF Mediterranean.

2 - We need to ensure the urgent implementation of a fishing capacity reduction plan for the vessels targeting swordfish.

After recent experience with the bluefin tuna fishery we are convinced that a fleet capacity reduction plan should be among the key management measures in the recovery plan for swordfish. In order to implement a capacity reduction plan the SCRS (ICCAT’s scientific committee) should carry out an assessment of the current fleet capacity effectively targeting swordfish (with longliners and harpoons), by estimating catch rates per segment of fleet.

“A realistic list of vessels effectively targeting swordfish and a capacity reduction plan with clear timeframes for the elimination of overcapacity is the first step needed to end overfishing”, says Dr Susana Sainz-Trapaga, Fisheries Officer at WWF Mediterranean.

3 - We need to ensure the urgent adoption of a scientifically-based recovery plan for swordfish: the swordfish fishery currently relies on the capture of juveniles.

An effective recovery plan for swordfish should include a reliable capacity reduction plan for the species with a clear timeframe. Technical measures to protect juveniles, to increase selectivity and to ensure traceability should be also established by the plan. These include a seasonal closure during the entire recruitment period, a minimum landing size determined by age of sexual maturity, and the establishment of an effective catch document scheme.

“The current fishery is mostly based on juveniles. If we don’t reverse this situation now by effectively preventing the catch of immature fish the fishery won’t last long,” says Dr Susana Sainz-Trapaga, Fisheries Officer at WWF Mediterranean.

Lucy Towers

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