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Fishing Countries Maintain Tuna Quotas, Angering Conservationists

Environmental activists were angry and dismayed at the decision by international fishing regulators today to essentially maintain the commercial harvesting of Atlantic bluefin tuna at current levels, which many scientists and conservationists consider unsustainable for the survival of the fish. Although the 48 member governments of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), meeting for ten...

Environmental activists were angry and dismayed at the decision by international fishing regulators today to essentially maintain the commercial harvesting of Atlantic bluefin tuna at current levels, which many scientists and conservationists consider unsustainable for the survival of the fish.

Although the 48 member governments of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), meeting for ten days in Paris, did extend some protections for some species of sharks, the conservation groups said this decision also fell far short of what was needed to stop over-exploitation of sharks.

Conservationists were particularly ticked off because an international meeting earlier this year of governments party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) resisted calls to list Atlantic bluefin tuna under the treaty’s Appendix 1, which would have banned international trade of the fish, on the basis that the upcoming meeting of ICCAT countries would be the more appropriate international instrument to manage and protect bluefin tuna. (Nations wrestle over ban on tuna trade.)

“In March 2010, Atlantic bluefin tuna was proposed for listing under Appendix I under CITES. Despite support from the United States and the European Union, the proposal was brought down by intense lobbying from Japan, who stated that ICCAT, not CITES, was the relevant body to manage the fishery. Japan staked its reputation on achieving meaningful measures for bluefin at ICCAT and is now going home empty handed,” the Pew Environment Group said in a statement today, at the conclusion of the ICCAT meeting.

Pew Environment and other activist organizations had lobbied ICCAT members to reduce substantially or even suspend the quotas for fishing of tuna and some shark species, to allow threatened species time to boost their numbers. (Eleventh Hour for Tuna and Sharks.)

“This year, ICCAT had the opportunity to do two things–rescue bluefin tuna from the edge of commercial extinction and salvage its reputation for inaction. It has now failed on both counts,” Oliver Knowles of Greenpeace International wrote on the Greenpeace website.

Knowles added:

“Once again, ICCAT’s 10-day meeting has resulted in a new fishing quota for bluefin, this time of 12,900 tons–a tiny reduction on last year’s quota of 13,500 tons.

“Come May, sanctioned by the very organization which is supposed to “conserve” tuna, destructive purse-seine fishing vessels in the Mediterranean will cast their nets again on this hugely depleted species.

“Let’s put a marker down here and now–the governments and delegates at this ICCAT session must be noted in history as those people that have failed this magnificent species.”

Bluefin tuna devouring mackerel picture.jpg

National Geographic painting of bluefin tuna devouring mackerel by Stanley Meltzoff.

Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group, issued this statement:

“ICCAT member governments today adopted measures to protect oceanic whitetip and hammerhead sharks, but were unable to provide real protection for Atlantic bluefin tuna and several other species of sharks whose populations are in jeopardy. Denying critical protection for some of the most threatened and iconic fish in the ocean is inexcusable.

“Atlantic bluefin tuna once again were denied the protection they desperately need.”

“Despite sound science to show how threatened these species are–and all the recent evidence of fraud, laundering and illegal fishing–Atlantic bluefin tuna once again were denied the protection they desperately need. ICCAT member governments had more than enough information to act decisively. They failed to do so.

“They failed to protect the spawning grounds for Atlantic bluefin, either in the Gulf of Mexico or the Mediterranean. They failed to suspend, or even significantly reduce, this fishery until effective management measures are in place and illegal fishing is brought under control. They agreed to only minor reductions in Atlantic bluefin catch limits in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, while adopting only cosmetic efforts to promote enforcement and compliance.

“Japan, the United States, the European Union and other member governments had an opportunity to secure meaningful protection for bluefin tuna this week. The inability of ICCAT member governments to make significant decisions to improve the health of Atlantic bluefin tuna and shark populations reflects the failure of a system that was set up largely by fishing countries on behalf of fishing interests.

“It is now clear that the entire management system of high seas fisheries is flawed and inadequate. The time for letting the fox guard the hen house is over; we call upon governments that care about healthy ocean ecosystems to overhaul this broken system.”

WWF issued this statement:

“Short-term interests have taken priority over sustainability and common sense at the recent meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in Paris, which once again failed to establish measures sufficiently stringent to allow the severely overfished Mediterranean bluefin tuna to recover.

“Under pressure from the Mediterranean fishing industry and countries benefiting from the highly profitable trade of the sushi favorite red-fleshed bluefin tuna, ICCAT endorsed an annual catch still far too high to enable the species’ recovery–and held back efforts to regulate the fishery in the Mediterranean, where the eastern Atlantic population of bluefin tuna migrates to spawn.

“Commission members decided to drop the 2011 eastern bluefin fishing quota by only 600 tonnes, from 13,500 tonnes to 12,900–while WWF was urging a catch of less than 6,000 tonnes in line with more precautionary recommendations to enable recovery of the overexploited fish stocks. What has been decided does almost nothing to help the troubled species recover.

“‘Greed and mismanagement have taken priority over sustainability and common sense at this ICCAT meeting.”

“‘Greed and mismanagement have taken priority over sustainability and common sense at this ICCAT meeting when it comes to Atlantic bluefin. This measly quota reduction is insufficient to ensure the recovery of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea,’ said Sergi Tudela, Head of WWF Mediterrean’s Fisheries Programme.

“‘After years of observing ICCAT and countless opportunities to do the right thing, it is clear to us that the commission’s interests lie not in the sustainable harvesting of bluefin tuna but in pandering to short-term business interests. There have been no effective measures implemented here to deal with widespread illegal and unreported fishing for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean,’ said Tudela.

“Recent investigations have shown the high levels of non-compliance and rule-bending still rife across the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery. While there are observers on vessels there is a lot of guess work involved, and control measures were not significantly improved at the Paris ICCAT meeting.

“‘ICCAT members are wilfully blind to the fact that failing to reduce fishing quotas to precautionary levels recommended by science will logically result in the lack of recovery of the species. Before this meeting WWF asked whether ICCAT wants to remain ineffective or help save bluefin tuna. The answer is becoming all too clear,” said Tudela.

“WWF welcomed, however, the decision to finally respect the so-called payback regulations, meaning that countries which have overfished would see their quotas reduced accordingly in future to compensate. This application of fishing rules is crucial in Europe at a time when the EU is reforming its common fisheries policy and has pledged to follow science and slash illegal fishing.

“In 2007 France fished well over 10,000 tonnes, while in 2011 its quota will be less than 1,000 after payback. France’s 2011 quota should be allocated among artisanal fleets rather than the industrial purse seine vessels that are responsible for the massive overfishing in the recent past.

“WWF is urging that capacity reduction measures put in place today also focus on cutting purse seiners. The new rules dictate that within three years boat capacity in the Mediterranean–currently far too high–should be aligned with fishing quotas. While current figures for boat numbers underestimate real capacity, this is a positive move.

“Coming into the meeting, ICCAT’s chairman Fabio Hazin talked of ‘the obligation to respect science’ and expressed “confidence and consequent optimism” that countries would ‘act responsibly and adopt measures needed to ensure sustainability’ of fish stocks. But ICCAT members countries have fallen short of this expectation.

“‘Everyone talked of respecting science and wanting to adopt measures to ensure recovery of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, but the measures adopted today are highly risky given the dire status of bluefin tuna stocks and all the blanks and unknowns in the current data gathering and analysis,’ said Dr Tudela of WWF.

“ICCAT has for years failed to implement recovery and sustainable management of the bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean Sea.

“WWF, an observer at the negotiations during the ICCAT meeting, was calling on governments to end rule-bending and impunity for illegal fishing, and urging the inter-governmental body to implement a science-based management plan that will allow the Atlantic bluefin tuna to recover.

“WWF was also calling for the establishment of no-fishing sanctuaries in the six identified spawning grounds in the Mediterranean Sea, but this suggestion was removed entirely from the agenda.

“A proposal to ban international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna through a listing on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was defeated in Doha, Qatar last March. But the main harvesting and consuming countries of eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna, the EU and Japanas well as Norway, Canada and the U.S.–promised to lead in getting sustainable and science-based fisheries management measures adopted at this year’s ICCAT meeting.

“Japan in particular opposed the CITES listing and stressed that ICCAT was the place to sustainably manage Atlantic bluefin tuna and that countries would show the world ICCAT is capable of ensuring the recovery of the species.

“‘WWF is disappointed the Doha commitments were not respected here in Paris. We had high hopes that Japan especially would take leadership at this ICCAT meeting in putting in place sustainable and precautionary management measures for bluefin tuna as well as enforcing strict compliance,’ said Dr Aiko Yamauchi, Fisheries Officer at WWF-Japan. ‘The results fall short of our high expectations, in spite of fresh evidence of widespread rule-breaking again this year. We are urging Japan to strictly enforce compliance rules.’

“ICCAT’s scientists will next assess bluefin tuna stocks in the East Atlantic in 2012, when they vow to address the uncertainties in data to ensure recommendations are clearer. Data quality must improve but also the methodologies employed to analyse figures. WWF will work with scientists to optimise the process during the next two years.”

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn