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A possible repreive for bluefin tuna

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Policy

Bluefin tuna

Credit: Wikimedia

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Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing and trade could soon be banned around the world, with the European Commission yesterday giving provisional backing for plans to list the fish as a species in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Currently commercial over-exploitation from both legal and illegal fishing activities is threatening the species.

"This decision marks an important step in the protection of Atlantic bluefin tuna," said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas. "We must act on the best scientific evidence available to us - and scientists say that urgent action is needed to safeguard the future of one of the ocean's most emblematic creatures."

The move to list the fish in CITES was initially proposed by Monaco, which expressed grave concerns about the state of global bluefin stocks. EU Member States will be consulted on the proposal later this month, ahead of a final CITES vote to be held in Qatar in March next year.

CITES is an international agreement between governments that is there to ensure international trade in plants and animals doesn't threaten their survival in the wild. It is the only global convention with the power to limit or ban international trade in endangered species, and currently affords protection to over 30,000 plants and animals.

The listing of the Atlantic bluefin tuna under Appendix 1 of CITES would temporarily ban all international trade of the fish, and give the species a chance of recovery.

But Dimas said that as Monaco's proposal currently relies on scientific advice from 2008, the very latest scientific recommendations would first be needed to be heard before full backing from the Commission could be provided.

"It will be very important to see what the latest scientific advice says," said EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg, adding that, depending on the findings and the recovery plan set in place, it is possible "a complete trade ban can be avoided".

Atlantic bluefin tuna is highly migratory species that is particularly targeted in its spawning grounds in the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The fish are typically transferred live to tuna farms, where they are fed for several months, slaughtered and then exported around the world, predominantly to Japan, which receives about 80 per cent of the Mediterranean harvest (around 30,000 tons in 2007).

The fish is also at risk from illegal fishing activities (which have recently been targeted by a new international treaty - see G's news story here), and over the past decades has experienced a sharp population decline, with its conservation status now very poor.

The move has been welcomed by environment groups today. "[The Commission has] made the right choice leading the EU to heed urgent scientific advice that Atlantic bluefin tuna is dangerously close to collapse and needs a break," said Tony Long of WWF.

"Some EU Member States have already joined the call to temporarily ban international trade in Atlantic bluefin - and [we urge] other countries to follow the European Commission's lead and back the trade suspension."

Lauren Monaghan with the EC