Fate of the bluefin tuna discussed



Bluefin tuna

Credit: NOAA

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PARIS: The survival of Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna, exploited to the brink of collapse, could depend on international negotiations starting on Monday in Marrakech, Morocco.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will try to hammer out a new plan that protects the overfished species without throttling the multi-million dollar industry built around it.

Measures on the table range from tighter quotas and enforcement to an outright moratorium.

The stakes are high not just for bluefin and large-scale fisheries in a dozen countries but for ICCAT itself, according to the organisation's chairman.

"Our fate will be sealed ultimately by the decisions we make in Marrakech," Fabio Hazin wrote in a letter to the commission's forty-odd member states two weeks ahead of the special meeting.

"Let's not fool ourselves: there will be no future for ICCAT if we do not fully respect and abide by the scientific advice," he warned.

Driven by skyrocketing prices - especially in Japan, which consumes more than 80 per cent of tuna caught in the Mediterranean Sea - bluefin tuna populations have crashed over the last decade.

Quotas put in place to stem the decline are not nearly stringent enough, according to many experts.

Others say current fishing limits would be adequate if they were respected: last year the total catch in the Mediterranean was 61,000 tonnes, more than twice the authorised limit of 29,500 tonnes, according to ICCAT statistics.

The body's own scientific committee has recommended an annual limit of 15,000 tonnes.

At the end of October, European ministers said they were in favour of "more rigorous management of this fragile species" - including the possibility of lower quotas and a shorter fishing season - but stopped short of calling for a moratorium.

Six European nations have a direct stake in the negotiations: France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus.

But industry groups have remained adamant that current quotas should not be cut.

The European Association of Mediterranean Tuna Fishery, which says it represents 2,500 professionals from France, Italy and Malta, insist that enforcement is the answer. Infringements of existing rules, they say, are common in fleets based on the other side of the Sea.

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