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Battle Over Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Quotas Looming

November 15, 2010

Fishing proponents and environmental conservationists are gearing up for what could well be a heated battle over fishing quotas during an international summit due to commence later this week.

The 48 member nations of the Madrid-based International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will gather for a 10-day period, starting on Wednesday. At issue will be Atlantic bluefin tuna quotas, which currently stand at 13,500 metric tons.

According to Leigh Thomas of Reuters, the food is considered a delicacy in Japan and can fetch up to $100,000 per fish, making it an important source of income for many in the fishing industry. On the other hand, Marlowe Hood of AFP reports that conservationists warn that stocks of the species “will collapse” unless ICCAT “suspends or sharply reduces catches long enough” for them to recover.

However, the issue goes beyond dollar figures or population statistics. According to Hood, there are many who believe that ICCAT “is riddled with fraud, a claim bolstered by recent investigative reports and France’s admission in 2007 that its catch for that year was more than double the authorized limit.” Furthermore, an unidentified member of the organization’s advisory panel told Thomas that “there has been widespread under-reporting of catches, particularly in the Mediterranean Sea.”

Quotas were lowered by 6,000 metric tons from 2009 to 2010, though Thomas says that French negotiators are calling for a 13,500 limit for only the European countries fishing the Atlantic, in order to protect the jobs of fishermen and the industry as a whole. Conversely, Pew Environmental Group policy director Susan Lieberman believes that they should “suspend” bluefin tuna fishing “and get it properly managed before we reopen it.”

According to Hood, ICCAT scientists have concluded that maintaining the current annual quote through 2013 “will likely allow the stock to increase during that period.”

“Conservationists see ICCAT as one of the last hopes for the fish, after the European Union failed in its bid to have the species listed as endangered at a March meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES),” Thomas said. “Efforts to protect bluefin tuna suffered at the 175-nation meeting in Doha when dozens of countries rejected a trade ban proposal from Monaco.”

Image Caption: A northern bluefin tuna at the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, Japan. Credit: Wikipedia  

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