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18th Apr 13Managed by Chatham House
Financed by DEFRA
Measures to protect Mediterranean tuna are failing, report warns
Confidential papers show how fishing boats in the region routinely fail to follow regulations put in place to protect tuna stocks
Measures to protect dwindling stocks of bluefin tuna fish in the Mediterranean have failed to curb illegal fishing practices, leaked papers show.
The Guardian has been passed a confidential report of a French navy inspection of the tuna fishery, which shows how fishing boats in the region routinely fail to follow regulations put in place to protect stocks. Conservation experts say the report shows that existing controls are not enough to save the species and that wider measures are needed.
The disclosure comes in advance of a European commission vote on Monday on whether to support moves to list bluefin tuna as an endangered species under the UN agreement Cites, which would bring an immediate ban on its trade.
Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries at WWF Mediterranean, said: "This report speaks of the real situation of the fishery, more than any paper measures that remain largely unapplied. It is evident that the bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean is still entirely out of control and illegal fishing continues unabated. Management measures adopted for the fishery are not only well below the standards requested by urgent scientific advice, but even so they are not even implemented in the field."
Stocks of bluefin in the Mediterranean - where they spawn before heading into the Atlantic - collapsed during the 1990s, driven by demand for sushi, for which their tender flesh is highly prized. Numbers are now reckoned to be below one-fifth of what they were in 1970.
The remaining fish are supposed to be protected by a intergovernmental body called the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which regulates catches and fishing activity. The organisation has been consistently criticised by scientists and conservation groups for setting quotas above sustainable levels and ignoring expert advice.
The French navy report describes a surprise inspection of the tuna fishery in the eastern Mediterranean by patrol boat Arago in May this year. The navy inspected 24 vessels from Turkey, Spain, Italy, Greece and Cyprus involved in "purse seine" fishing for bluefin, a practice where fishermen use giant nets to herd the fish towards shore, where they are transferred to shallow water pens for fattening.
The report strongly criticised the Turkish fishing fleet. It says: "The Turkish didn't seem to apply the regulations. Registration documents were either not filled in or simply did not exist. There are no ICCAT observers in the purse seiners or the vessel is simply not registered with ICCAT."
Under ICCAT rules, each vessel over 24m needs to carry a regional observer to be allowed to work the fishery.
The Arago report says they found only one observer across the fleet, and raised question marks about his honesty. "After the inspections he would find all sorts of explanations or false arguments to try to justify noncompliance with ICCAT recommendations. Moreover, the estimations of the amount of fish in the cages given by him were on average 10-times lower than those estimated by the divers of the Arago."
In all, the Arago report details 22 breaches of ICCAT regulations, including fishing without licenses, poor or absent record keeping and taking fish below the allowed size.
Tudela said: "The risk situation reported for the bluefin tuna breeding stock is higher than ever. This is inevitable given the huge overcapacity of the industrial fleet targeting the stock. To break even, this giant fleet needs to overfish. The only option to save the stock and the fishery is to temporarily close the fishery, to create conditions for a sustainable fishery and to allow the stock to recover. A ban of international trade under Cites is essential to cut the main driver of overfishing. We want to see a sustainable fishery in the future, but to allow that we must give tuna a breather."
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Ocean Areas/Mediterranean Sea