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No letup for bluefin tuna

tuna.jpgFisheries regulators have elected to show little mercy to the Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), whose population is in danger of being wiped out by commercial fishing.

On 27 November at a meeting in Paris, members of the Madrid-based International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which manages tuna fishing, voted for 2011 catch quotas in the Mediterranean to be set at 12,900 tonnes, just slightly lower than this year’s 13,500 tonnes (press release).

The result of the vote was condemned by environmental groups, who have become used to ICCAT’s failure to lower the take in bluefin tuna over the last 40 years, despite stricter catch quotas recommended by its own scientific committee. In that time, adult stocks have plunged by 72% in the eastern Atlantic and 82% in the western Atlantic.

“” “>It is now clear that the entire management system of high seas fisheries is flawed and inadequate,” said Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said it was “”">disappointed" with the new quota.

ICCAT has also failed to stem illegal fishing of bluefin tuna – as an 8-month investigative report, “Looting the Seas”, made clear in early November (see also Nature’s news article ‘Bluefin tuna regulators under pressure’). The report documented a decade of fraud and quota violations between 1998 and 2007, which ICCAT’s scientific committee estimates means the annual catch of bluefin in that period was 50,000-60,000 tonnes, about 40% higher than the reported catch.

November’s meeting had been watched with particular interest, because earlier in the year Monaco had put pressure on ICCAT by proposing a bypass route: it suggested classifying bluefin tuna as “endangered” under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). That would have banned international trade in tuna; but economic interests won out – a single bluefin tuna can fetch US$100,000 in markets in Japan, the fish’s main consumers – and the proposal was rejected in March (See ‘Bad news for tuna is bad news for CITES’).

ICCAT’s deliberations are closed to news media, so there is no record of how its 48 member nations voted.

Image: tuna for sale at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo / by Stewart via Flickr under creative commons.


  1. Report this comment

    Ian MacKenzie said:

    The ICCTA countries should be sanctioned by the UN. And – everyone knows the source of the problem is Japan – which of the UN member nations will have the courage to hold Japan responsible? To impose punitive trade sanctions as long as Japanese importers are will to abet fishing the bluefin to extinction?

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