November 25, 2008

Europe’s Tuna Trade Called ‘Mockery Of Science’

In a move environmental groups called a "mockery of science", nations with involvement in trading Mediterranean bluefin tuna voted to maintain catches at levels nearly 50 percent above "safe" levels.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICAAT) vote was blamed primarily on the European Union, who environmentalists say used trade issues to pressure smaller nations into supporting the measure.

ICAAT's scientists initially said the total allowable catch (TAC) for next year should not exceed 15,000 tons.  The scientists warned the commission that "a collapse in the near future is a possibility" considering the large number of boats involved in the lucrative trade.

However, the figure was set at 22,000 tons during the final day of the commission's annual meeting, with the nations rejecting scientists' plea for a closure of the fishery during the spawning months of May and June.

"The spawning closure was probably more important than the TAC issue because actually the TAC was never respected," Sergi Tudela, who leads the fisheries program at the environment group WWF, told BBC news from the ICAAT meeting.

"It was the one thing that might have stopped overfishing", he said.

"The decision is a mockery of science and a mockery of the world; ICCAT has shown that it doesn't deserve the mandate to manage this iconic fishery."

Numbers of the East Atlantic stock of bluefin have fallen so rapidly that there is now the possibility it could be classified as a threatened species. The southern bluefin is already categorized as Critically Endangered.

An independent report by experts last year called ICCAT's management of the tuna fishery a "disgrace", and blamed the major fishing nations for blatantly disregarding rules.

In 2006, ICCAT scientists estimated that illegal Mediterranean fishing added about 30% onto the official catch figures.

The European Commission's compromise position came as somewhat of a surprise.  Spain supported a suspension of the fishery at the World Conservation Congress in October, while Italy reportedly went even further in calling for a moratorium.

The EU's introductory statement at ICAAT meeting acknowledged that "the situation of the bluefin tuna is critical", and that "urgent action is needed to ensure the sustainability of this emblematic stock".

The reason behind the European Commission's subsequent decision to argue in favor of catches significantly above scientists' recommendations are unclear.

Some conservationists who were in attendance at the meeting said the EU had threatened developing nations with trade penalties on certain goods if they did not support Europe's position on the matter.

Environmental groups that have long petitioned ICAAT members to support more limited catches are now likely to move their battle to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

"The game is over "“ ICCAT has missed its last chance to save the bluefin tuna from stock collapse," Sebastian Losada, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace in Spain, told BBC News.

"It's time to take the fishery out of their hands and look to conventions like Cites to impose trade restrictions on the species."

Image Courtesy Wikipedia


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