ICCAT, which begins its meeting 16 November in Santiago de Compostela, has pledged to adopt a rebuilding programme for Atlantic bluefin tuna at this year's annual meeting. Fishing nations finally acknowledged last year that current regulations have failed to protect this species, which has declined by more than 80 percent since 1975.
For years, ICCAT has neglected its responsibility to develop a bluefin tuna recovery plan, said Michael Sutton, Director of WWF's Endangered Seas Campaign. This year represents the best opportunity for fishing nations to take real action and adopt a plan that will restore bluefin tuna to its mid-1970 levels.
The three nations responsible for most of the bluefin catch in the Atlantic are Japan, the United States, and Canada. Spain is also a key ICCAT nation, hosting the Secretariat and each annual meeting. WWF expects these nations in particular to support an effective recovery plan. If ICCAT fails to act, other international bodies such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) may have to step in to save these fisheries, added Sutton.
Overfishing is the main cause of the bluefin tuna's decline, but rampant violations of ICCAT regulations (catching fish below legal size and exceeding established quotas) has further compounded the problem. Even full compliance with the current inadequate conservation regulations will not restore bluefin tuna, said Sutton. Reduced catch quotas that promote bluefin tuna recovery in the shortest possible time are vital to the species' survival.
This year's ICCAT meeting will also review the status of North Atlantic swordfish, which have declined by 70 percent since the mid-1960s. WWF and other conservation organizations are urging governments to support an agreement that would require discarded swordfish to be counted against the catch quota. Such measures would help reduce swordfish mortality and aid in its recovery. ICCAT members are expected to adopt a comprehensive recovery plan for swordfish next year.
Contact: Someshwar Singh at +41 22 364-9553 or Leigh Ann Hurt at 44 1483-419-294.