Relief as bluefin tuna quotas kept within recovery levels
November 19 2012 Lewis Smith
Frozen tuna at the Tsukiji fish mrket in Japan
Conservation groups have welcomed a decision to keep the Atlantic bluefin tuna quota within scientific recommendations, though there was disappointment at a lack of progress against illegal fishing.
The quota was set by the International Commission for the Conservation of all Tunas (ICCAT) at 13,500 tonnes in the Atlantic Ocean, including the Mediterranean Sea, for the next year.
Observers from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Pew Environment Group, were delighted and relieved that the commission had shrugged off industry pressure to increase catches.
Scientists had recommended the quota be set at 12,900 to 13,500 tonnes after identifying signs the endangered fish was showing signs of recovery. This year the quota is was 12,900 tonnes, having been revised from an original 13,500 tonnes.
Conservation groups had regarded the 2012 ICCAT summit in Agadir, Morocco, as a test of its commitment to protect Atlantic bluefin and they were buoyed up by its decision to stick to scientific recommendations.
Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries, WWF-Mediterranean , said: “The 2012 meeting was a real test of the commitment of ICCAT members on the conservation of the bluefin tuna. We are pleased that respect for science has finally been imposed, with the EU at the forefront, in the fight against short term benefits by setting unsustainable fishing levels.”
Dr Sue Lieberman, international policy adviser at Pew, expressed similar sentiments: “It is encouraging that ICCAT listened to the recommendations of its own scientists and agreed to keep catch limits for bluefin tuna within their advice.
“This decision will give this depleted species a fighting chance to continue on the path to recovery after decades of overfishing and mismanagement.
“Although we are disappointed that the quota has only been set for one year in the western Atlantic and two years in the eastern Atlantic, we are hopeful that governments will expand their efforts to stop the illegal fishing and fraud in parts of this fishery.”
But both organisations were disappointed that there was only limited progress made against illegal fishing which is thought to have resulted in catches in recent years being up to 77 per cent higher than quotas.
An electronic catch documentation scheme was retained and there were stronger measures to identify boats trying to land illegal catches in ports but Pew and the WWF remain convinced that stiffer measures are needed.
There was similar frustration at a lack of action to provide sharks with greater protection. In particular, calls to halt the hunting of porbeagles, one of the most vulnerable sharks in ICCAT waters, sharks were blocked by Canada, the only member country of the commission to have a commercial fishery for the species.
Shannon Arnold, Marine Program Coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre, based in Canada, said: “Canada’s refusal to stop targeted and opportunistic fishing for porbeagle sharks has once again prevented Atlantic-wide protections for this threatened species.
“Canada’s continued insistence on special treatment has led to a breakdown in a process that is critical to international cooperation on shared resources.”
There was also only limited progress towards protecting shortfin mako sharks despite a recommendation by scientists that a catch limit be agreed.
Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International, said: “We are particularly disappointed in ICCAT’s repeated failure to heed scientific advice and set limits on exceptionally vulnerable and valuable mako sharks, and yet encourage the U.S. and EU to continue to strive for this important goal.”
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