Environmentalists Slam ICCAT for “Meagre” Bluefin Quota Cuts

14 December 2010

A drive by environmentalists to significantly cut next year's fishing quotas for the prized bluefin tuna failed at last month's International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meeting in Paris. The call to slash the total allowable catch (TAC) of the fish was blocked by Mediterranean fishing nations such as France, Italy, and Spain, which had previously swayed the EU Commission to focus on the concerns of European fishermen instead of the possible long-term effects on the tuna population. By the end of the meeting, which ran from 17-27 November, ICCAT had set the TAC for 2011 at 12,900 metric tonnes, a decrease of only 600 tonnes from 2010 levels.

Environmentalist groups slammed the decision, with one press release calling the four percent reduction "laughable."

Groups such as WWF and Oceana had called for next year's quota to be based on scientific data, which suggest that bluefin tuna are in danger and require more protection (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 22 November 2010). The groups have pointed to figures showing that bluefin populations have plummeted by 80 percent since 1970. They had urged ICCAT to decrease TACs by 6000 tonnes, giving bluefin an 85 percent chance at recovery by 2022, as opposed to just 60 percent at the current levels, according to scientists.

"Greed and mismanagement have taken priority over sustainability and common sense...[t]his measly quota reduction is insufficient to ensure the recovery of bluefin tuna," said Sergi Tudela, Head of WWF's Mediterranean Fisheries Programme.

Payback regulations a positive move

Nonetheless, environmentalists welcomed the decision to institute "payback regulations," which reduces counties' future fishing quotas relative to how much they overfish. Overexploitation of fish stocks has been a big problem in the EU, with France reportedly overfishing by 10,000 tonnes in 2007. In contrast, France's 2011 quota will be less than ten percent of that number.

EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki called the decision "a step in the right direction," despite the fact that her call to cut quotas in half failed after EU fishing nations swayed the Commission to take an opposite stance from its original proposal (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 8 November 2010). "Our work does not end with this meeting, however. The EU will continue to work hard to ensure the long-term sustainability of bluefin tuna, sharks and all the other sensitive stocks managed by ICCAT," she said.

Aggravated with the results, green groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity responded to the ruling by calling for consumers to boycott the red meat. "If regulators won't protect these magnificent fish, it's up to consumers and restaurants to eliminate the market demand, and that means refusing to eat, buy or serve this species," said Catherine Kilduff, a staff attorney for the Center.

Despite the decision to essentially maintain last year's fishing levels, the EU is legally obligated to establish measures aimed at achieving recovery of fish stocks to sustainable levels by 2020 under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which came into force in 2008.

ICTSD Reporting; "Bluefin tuna condemned to extinction by ‘laughable' ICCAT summit claim activists," THEECOLOGIST.ORG, 30 November 2010; "US environmentalists urge bluefin tuna boycott," AFP, 1 December 2010; "Tuna commission fails again to ensure bluefin tuna recovery," WWF, 27 November 2010.

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