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18th Apr 13Managed by Chatham House
Financed by DEFRA
Bluefin tuna an endangered species?
European Ministers are mulling a proposal to add bluefin tuna to a list of endangered species in response to warnings of a fish stocks collapse from scientists. The initiative seeks to add the fish to Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which would automatically implement a temporary ban on all international trade.
Bluefin tuna is prized in Japan where it is used to prepare high-grade sushi. Some 90 percent of Mediterranean tuna is exported to the Japanese market which, in turn, dictates prices.
”From a scientific and technical point of view, the criteria for the listing of Atlantic bluefin tuna [as an endangered species] appear to be met,” reads a draft document by the European Commission’s environment directorate that was leaked to the Financial Times. “There is no doubt about the link between international trade and overexploitation of the species.”
Monaco, the first country in the world to ban the sale of bluefin tuna, spearheaded the current proposal. The microstate’s move was met with approval by several EU members - including France, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria - which have all publicly indicated their support for the ban.
Overhaul needed for sustainability
Environmentalists insist that a temporary ban is necessary to allow time for stocks to recover and to overhaul the current management system that they say is flawed.
”It would be scandalous if the European Commission were to allow the region’s most emblematic marine species associated with a thousand-year-old fishing tradition to go extinct on its watch,” said Tony Long, Director of WWFs European Policy Office in Brussels. “They must back the proposal to temporarily ban international trade.”
Some politicians also acknowledged the long history of the industry and pushed for a more sustainable approach to the industry. “It is against this great responsibility that we will be judged by our children and the generations to come,” said French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
But other countries with large fishing fleets- such as Italy, Spain, and Malta - have been less enthusiastic about the initiative. “The scientific data used to arrive at some of the conclusions about the level of exploitation are considered flawed as they are not deriving from scientifically recognised publications,” said Carmelo Agius, who represents the Maltese aquaculture industry. “We believe that the stringent controls introduced since 2002 should ensure the long term sustainability of the fishery,” Agius concluded.
The blufin tuna industry is no stranger to controversy. In November 2008, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas - the international organisation in charge of regulating the bluefin tuna industry - a was slammed by environmentalists when it decided on catch limits higher than the organisation’s own scientists had recommended.
Illegal fishing important part of puzzle
Many environmentalists say that the actual quotas set by ICCAT would be sustainable if stringent enforcement was possible. According to ICCAT statistics, the total 2007 Mediterranean catch was 61,000 tonnes, more than twice the authorised limit of 29,500 tonnes. The year before that, ICCAT scientists estimated illegal fishing in the same region added about 30 percent onto the official catch figures.
In response to calls to crack down on Illegal, Unregulated, and Underreported (IUU) fishing, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) established an international agreement on 28 August. The new agreement sets minimum fishing standards that are applicable to ports in all states around the world.
Among other requirements, the agreement calls for “prior notification by the flag state to confirm the legality of the catches held onboard before a vessel is granted access to port facilities, procedures for inspection of foreign vessels when at port [and] a legal basis for denying IUU-listed vessels access to port facilities.”
EC acknowledges “enforcement deficiencies”
The European Commission says it welcomes the FAO agreement in light of the fact that it acknowledges that “serious control and enforcement deficiencies” in all member states led to widespread overfishing in 2007.
Temporary bluefin tuna bans were implemented in both 2007 and 2008 following what they called “substantial overfishing by the EU fleet.”
Several meetings on the CITES issue have already taken place, but consensus remains elusive. There was widespread speculation that a decision would be reached on 2 September, but discussions continue to be pushed back.
In order to be considered at CITES next Conference of the Parties, scheduled for 13-25 March 2010 in Doha, Qatar, submissions must be received by 17 October 2009.
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