WWF Urges Bluefin Boats To Stay In Port

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
14 May 2010, at 1:00am

GENERAL - As industrial boats prepare to set sail on Saturday for the annual Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing season on the Mediterranean Sea, the World Wildlife Fund is urging all fishing countries to keep the fishery closed this year until a scientifically based management plan is in place that bans destructive industrial fishing.

This will underscore commitments to follow scientific advice in fisheries management made in Doha, Qatar in March by several governments invested in the bluefin tuna fishing industry at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the largest international wildlife trade convention meeting.

High-tech purse seine fishing vessels – whose vast sack-like nets encircle massive shoals of bluefin tunas gathering to spawn – will once again set off for the high seas on Saturday.

WWF welcomes the decision of Italy to impose a moratorium on its large purse seine fleet this year and its commitment to scrap most of the vessels – and urges other Mediterranean nations to also keep their fleets in port. However, WWF is dismayed at the extensive subsidies being disbursed to compensate Italian boat owners for not going fishing and help them finance vessel scrapping.

“Italy’s decision to keep its purse seiners ashore is to be applauded and upheld as an example to follow,” said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean. “Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks cannot resist for much longer – by all accounts the species is endangered, with current populations dwindling at less than 15 per cent of what they once were. Nevertheless this year fleets are sanctioned to catch another 13,500 tonnes of fish, even when the rules are still widely violated.

“WWF calls on ICCAT – the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the regional management organization in charge of the Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery – and its members to respect their Doha commitments to sustainable fisheries management. A sound recovery plan for the exhausted species must finally be imposed when ICCAT meets in Paris in November – including above all a dramatic cut in catches to well below 8,000 tonnes.”

The latest advice from renowned international scientists shows that even an annual catch of 8,000 tonnes would give at best a 50 per cent chance of recovery to Atlantic bluefin tuna.

Such a quota would necessarily entail the closure of the entire Mediterranean industrial fishery, allowing a moderate catch by traditional artisanal fishing methods – such as the tuna traps around the Straits of Gibraltar, which have supported hundreds of fishing families for more than 3,000 years.

Over 150 members of CITES met in Doha, Qatar on March 9-25, where a majority rejected the proposal by the Principality of Monaco to list Atlantic bluefin tuna on Appendix I of the Convention. The species amply met the criteria, yet the listing was rejected on political grounds – largely due to a comprehensive lobbying effort led by Japan.

However, at the CITES meeting, key ICCAT member countries – notably Japan, the EU, the US, Canada and Norway – committed to adopt radical measures to save the species when they next meet in Paris, France in November 2010.

In a statement to the CITES plenary in Doha, ICCAT chair Dr Fabio Hazin told delegates: “Setting management measures not in line with scientific advice is no longer an option,” while Japan also intervened at the end of the Doha meeting, committing to lead a global effort to ensure the recovery of Atlantic bluefin tuna. Given its importance as largest consumer of the species, WWF strongly expects Japan to play a central role in shifting fisheries management in the right direction.

“WWF calls in particular on the EU and Japan – the main catchers and consumers of this endangered species – to lead in honouring their Doha commitments to respect science in fisheries management,” said Dr Tudela of WWF. “WWF’s wish is that this will be remembered as the year the world did good by Atlantic bluefin tuna. This is our watch – let’s make it our finest hour.”