Environmentalists Say ICCAT Cuts are Insufficient

27 November 2009

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) - the organisation in charge of regulating the bluefin tuna industry - adopted new measures aimed at stabilising Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks at their annual meeting in Recife, Brazil. But despite the new efforts, environmental groups say ICCAT's efforts are still not enough to save the species.

Earlier this year, Monaco made a proposal to list bluefin tuna under Appendix I in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 5 October 2009, http://www.ictsd.org/bridges-news/biores/news/lack-of-consensus-leaves-bluefin-tuna-on-the-market). The proposal, currently backed by the US, would effectively place a ban on all international commercial trade of the species. Environmental groups also supported this initiative, claiming that the ICCAT has failed in the past to protect bluefin tuna stocks (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 16 October 2009, http://www.ictsd.org/bridges-news/biores/news/bluefin-tuna-shark-species-to-be-considered-at-cites-cop).

ICCAT scientists announced at the meeting that if catches were to fall below 15,000 tonnes a year, this would provide a 60 percent probability that the bluefin tuna stock would recover by 2023. With this in mind, Japan - the world's largest importer of the giant tuna - and major fishing nations in the EU opposing greater quota cuts, ICCAT reduced the total allowable catch from 22,000 tonnes in 2009 to 13,500 tonnes for 2010. This measure was accompanied by a decrease in the fishing season by one month for purse seiners and improved mechanisms for the evaluation of Parties' control efforts.

Joe Borg, European Fisheries Commissioner, supported the group's decision, "admittedly, ICCAT had a very tough task this year, but it has risen to the challenge."

But environmental groups have challenged these provisions, pointing to a study presented during the ICCAT meeting showing that even a stringently enforced 8,000 tonne quota would only have a 50 percent possibility of stock recovery by 2023. "It is a decrease and that's nice, but it's not going to recover the species," noted Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for Pew Environment Group.

"This reduction of allowable catch is not based on any particular scientific advice to recover the stock with high probability - it is just an arbitrary political measure," said Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean. "Now more than ever WWF sees a global trade ban as the only hope for Atlantic bluefin."

CITES will consider Monaco's proposal to list bluefin tuna as an endangered species at the organisations next Conference of the Parties, which will take place in March 2010 in Doha, Qatar.

ICTSD Reporting; "Tuna's Death Spiral," THE NEW YORK TIMES, 21 November 2009; "Fishing Body Agrees To Cut In Atlantic Tuna Quota," REUTERS, 18 November 2009; "Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Quota Cut, Conservationists Urge Trade Ban," ENVIRONMENT NEWS SERVICE, 17 November 2009; "Atlantic bluefin trade ban now vital as tuna commission fails to take action again," WWF, 15 November 2009.

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