Mediterranean Countries Resist Lower Quotas at Paris Fisheries Meeting
A push by environmental groups to significantly decrease fishing quotas for Atlantic bluefin tuna was met with strong resistance from Mediterranean fishing nations at a meeting this week addressing 2011 fishing guidelines. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is meeting in Paris from 17-27 November to set international fishing rules for bluefin.
Last month, EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki proposed a quota decrease of more than half of 2010 levels, slashing total allowable catches (TAC) from 13,500 tonnes to 6,000 tonnes (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 8 November 2010). The ambitious proposal was supported by scientists and environmental groups who have recommended that fishing quotas not exceed 6,000 tonnes for 2011. This suggestion was strongly opposed by EU fishing nations such as France, Italy, Spain and Malta, which claim that such reductions would harm not only fishing companies, but would spread to other areas of the economy as well.
They have called for the quotas to remain at 2010 levels, citing an EU Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (SCRS) study, which determined that the current level “will likely allow the stock to increase” to an acceptable level by 2022. However, these studies are generally seen as unreliable due to uncertainty over the number of undocumented catches from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Results of a recent independent investigation suggest there is a complex international black market in East Atlantic bluefin tuna worth an estimated US$4 billion.
Brussels swayed by fishing countries
The EU was supposed come to a consensus on bluefin quotas before the start of the ICCAT meeting but disagreement within the bloc between the Commission and fishing nations has led to drawn out negotiations. On Thursday, member states France, Italy, Spain, and Malta appeared to have swayed the Commission to take an opposite stance from its original proposal, focusing on the concerns of the fishermen instead of the possible long term effects on the tuna population.
“Nevertheless, the Commission will respect its obligations as the negotiator on behalf of the European Union,” Damanki said in a statement, essentially scrapping the recommendations of scientists who have pointed to dwindling populations as a reason to halt or greatly reduce bluefin fishing quotas.
Environmental groups including WWF and Oceana say significant reductions are essential to preserving stocks of the coveted fish, and that failing to do so ignores scientific evidence suggesting that the species is being overfished (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 27 November 2009). The groups point to data which shows that bluefin populations have plummeted by 80 percent since 1970. The WWF claims that diminishing the quotas for bluefin to between zero and 6,000 tonnes annually will give the tuna stocks an 85 percent chance of recovery by 2022, as opposed to just a 60 percent chance if the current levels are maintained.
Additionally, environmental groups are calling for an end to purse-seine fishing, in which large nets hang from vessels surrounding a school of fish and are capable of catching thousands of tuna at once.
A ban on purse-seine fishing “is a realistic scenario,” said Chairman of the ICCAT, Fabio Hazin going into the meeting. This would be a significant victory for green groups as purse-seine fishing represented more than 60 percent of the total recent reported catch, but fisheries lobbyists are firmly opposed to such a measure.
“There’s no problem with purse-seine fishing as long as it complies with quotas,” said Javier Garat, president of Europêche, a European organisation that protects the interests of the fishing industry.
In the past, the Commission has supported proposals to protect bluefin, including an initiative to add the fish to Annex I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but pressure from fishing nations has been effective (see Bridges Trade BioRes, 18 September 2009).
Regardless of the dispute between the two sides, the EU is nonetheless legally obligated to establish measures aimed at achieving recovery of fish stocks to sustainable levels by 2020 under the 2008 Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
The ICCAT meeting will continue in Paris through 27 November.
ICTSD Reporting. “Fishing nations force EU retreat on bluefin tuna,” AP, 18 November 2010; “Battle lines emerge in bluefin tuna battle,” AFP, 17 November 2010; “EU nations agree Bluefin tuna compromise,” AFP, 17 November 2010; “Fishing Nations Gain Ground on Bluefin,” NEW YORK TIMES, 18 November 2010; “Fate of tuna considered at key Paris meeting,” DEUTSCHE WELLE, 17 November 2010.