October 14, 2008

Experts Recommend Temporary Ban On Mediterranean Fishing

Major calls for temporary closure of a Mediterranean tuna fishery business have been backed by major tuna-fishing nations, as they have been branded a "disgrace" by a recent expert report.

The World Conservation Congress passed a motion calling for closure of the bluefin fishery until scientifically sound recovery plans are in place.

They say catches are estimated to be about four times higher than scientists recommend.

Both Spain, which has the biggest quota for Mediterranean tuna, and Japan, the biggest consumer, voted in favor.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (Iccat) was pilloried in a recent independent report, which it had been obliged to commission.

The body's performance was "widely regarded as an international disgrace", and that the international community in whose interests Iccat operates "deserves better performance than it has received to date", said experts from Australia, Japan and Canada.

The report blames Iccat's member nations which, it said, did not stamp down on illegal fishing, did not provide accurate catch data, and failed to implement proper monitoring arrangements for its fleets. It concluded there were far too many boats chasing too few fish.

An interim ban on fishing in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic has been recommended "” a measure that the US has previously backed.

Iccat scientists recommended in 2006 that catches be limited to about 15,000 tons per year.

But the government appointees that make the decisions chose to allow quotas twice as big, and it is estimated that a further 20,000 tons are landed illegally each year, resulting in the number of fish falling to about one-third of its level in the 1970s.

Spain's support for its own fleet has been viewed as one of the principal reasons why catches have not been brought down to sustainable levels.

However, the Spanish delegation announced, "with satisfaction and responsibility, Spain has participated in building up consensus to get a compromise that will allow us to reverse the critical situation in the bluefin tuna population in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean."

They've called for Iccat to shorten the fishing season especially during the spawning months of May and June, establish protection zones around spawning sites and suspend fishing completely until member nations have begun to reduce the size of their fleets.

Sergi Tudela, head of the fisheries program with environment group WWF, said they hope it's the end of the degradation of the management of the bluefin tuna fishery.

"Today, it's a turning point - for the first time, important countries like Spain and Japan have supported bold and explicit action to avoid collapse of the stock, and we hope the spirit of this meeting will be continued next month in the crucial Iccat meeting in Marrakesh."

That meeting could decide on a closure, or on other conservation measures.

The lucrative sashimi business in Japan is widely cited as the trade's main driver for bluefin. But it appears that Japan will back calls for a moratorium.

Urgent and effective action has to be taken for the conservation and sustainable use of this particular species, according to fisheries agency official Hideki Moronuki.

"We believe that with this particular motion we can do something for the conservation of bluefin tuna, so that in future it can become a sustainable fishery."


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