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Threatened Fish Species In The Mediterranean Could Vanish

April 19, 2011

More than 40 species of fish that are native to the Mediterranean Seas are threatened with extinction in the next few years, according to a survey from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Overfishing, pollution and the loss of habitat are to blame for the possible disappearance of half of the species of sharks and rays as well as at least 12 species of bony fish, report the AP.

Although some of the endangered sharks and rays are not commercially valuable, they are victims of the type of fishing gear used in the sea, particularly trawling nets that indiscriminately haul up all sorts of fish.

“The use of trawling nets is one of the main problems for conservation and sustainability of many marine species,” says Maria del Mar Otero, an IUCN program officer.

She explains that, “Because it is not a selective technique, it captures not only the target fish but also a high number of other species while also destroying the sea bottom, where many fish live, reproduce and feed.”

Meanwhile, commercially valuable fish species such as the Atlantic Bluefin tuna, sea bass, hake and dusky grouper are particularly threatened, the study says.

Kent Carpenter, IUCN’s global marine species assessment coordinator, says, “”The Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic population of the Atlantic bluefin tuna is of particular concern.”

The reproduction potential of the Bluefin tuna has dropped by 50% over the past 40 years due to overfishing, he says. 80% of the Atlantic and Pacific bluefins caught are consumed by Japanese diners, and these two species are especially prized by sushi lovers.

The AP reported that in January, a 754-pound (342-kilogram) bluefin tuna fetched a record 32.49 million yen, which is nearly $396,000, in Tokyo at the world’s largest wholesale fish market. That is about $526 per pound!

U.N. treaties, the European Union and separate laws among the 21 nations that border the Mediterranean Sea regulate fishing in the area.

However, Carpenter says, “The lack of compliance with current quotas combined with widespread underreporting of the catch may have undermined conservation efforts for this species in the Mediterranean.”

The AP reports that the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas voted last November to reduce the Bluefin fishing quota in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean from 13,500 to 12,900 metric tons a year. This equates to a 4% reduction, not nearly as much as environmentalist groups had hoped for.

The commission also agreed to improve its enforcement of this quota.

The need to reinforce fishing regulations, create new marine reserves, reduce pollution and review fishing quotas, especially for the endangered fish species, were emphasized by the study.

“Responsible consumption is one of the ways in which we can all contribute to the conservation of many marine species,” says Catherine Numa, IUCN-Med Species Program Officer.

“Based on the findings of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, we hope that politicians will make the appropriate decisions to secure this important food source for the future, whilst protecting and valuing the biological diversity of the planet at the same time.”

Image Caption: Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is listed as Endangered at the Mediterranean level Credit: Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.5)   

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