Paving the way for recovery of bluefin tuna - an example for EU fisheries reform



Posted on 21 November 2012  | 
Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) shoal, captive, Malta, Mediteranean, May 2009
© Wild Wonders of Europe / Zankl / WWFEnlarge
For the first time this year, one of the most threatened fish in the World, the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Bluefin tuna, could be now on the right road to recovery, thanks to decision makers deciding to stick to scientific advice for fishing quotas as from 2013, following ICCAT* meeting last Monday. On the occasion of the World Fisheries Day, WWF looks back on the story of a long road to success.

“We never lost faith to save the most hopeless fisheries from collapse. Seeing what we see today means that all our efforts are finally paying to give a future to the Atlantic bluefin tuna. WWF would like this recovery to become a case study for sustainable fisheries management in the World and calls the EU to follow this example for its ongoing reform of the EU Fisheries policy” concluded Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries, WWF-Mediterranean.

Since 2001, WWF has worked hard to influence the management, trade and consumption patterns of Atlantic bluefin tuna in order to move towards a sustainable approach and to allow this species to avert collapse and fully recover.

“This year is a turning point in the story of bluefin tuna. The assessment of the East Atlantic and Mediterranean stocks by scientists detected for the first time in the last decade, signals of a population increase. In addition, politicians and decision-makers are now following scientific advice, so we have good reasons to believe we are on the right track to the recovery of one of the most amazing fish in the world”, said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries, WWF-Mediterranean.

Why is it important to ensure bluefin tuna survival in our oceans ?
The bluefin tuna is a large predator species that plays a significant role in marine ecosystem by shaping the oceanic web of life in the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean. Its unique biology and migratory behaviour makes it connecting areas as distant as Norway and Libya, as well as supporting a millenia-old fishery.

However Atlantic bluefin tuna has been heavily exploited for decades and the victim of widespread overfishing and illegal fishing – especially in its main spawning grounds across the Mediterranean – coupled with the pressure of relentless global trade led by the main consuming country, Japan.

Why has bluefin tuna been so overfished in the Mediterranean ?
Atlantic bluefin tuna has long been valued in the Mediterranean, where it provided food for numerous civilizations and created wealth. This is in stark contrast to North America, where prior to the 1960s it could only be sold for pet food! By the 1970s, attention switched to giant bluefin tuna for the Japanese market, where the bluefin had become a highly sought-after delicacy for sushi and sashimi.

Longliners, harpooners, and purse seiners all targeted the giants, driven by the high prices paid in Japan - which consumes the majority of catches and where a single bluefin has sold for over $ US 736,000! These fleets have used ever-more sophisticated means to find the tuna, including spotter planes and new-generation sonar equipment.

Most of the fisheries happen in the Mediterraneans where industrial purse seine fleets target the tunas as they gather to spawn. The tunas are then transferred live to fattening farms before they are sacrificed and shipped to the final international markets.

A long road to success
WWF has a long involvement in the fight to avoid the collapse of this species. Collaboration with scientists, decision-makers,fishing industry and market leaders has been crucial in turning what seemed to be an impending tide.

In decades of decline and 12 years of intense lobby work and campaigning, WWF has been instrumental in getting measures including:
- a decrease in quotas from 32,000 t in 2006 to 13,500 t for 2013 and 2014
- a moratorium in 2010 of the Italian industrial purse seine
- a payback on the EU quotas in 2019-2012 (of over 4,000 t) to compensate for the overfishing reported for the French fleet for 2007
- a minimum landing size matching the size at maturity for the species
- an open season for purse seine fleets of just one month a year
- an ICCAT Regional Observer Programme (ROP)
- a real time electronic Catch Documentation Scheme (the e-BCD)
- a substantial fleet capacity reduction plan
- an ICCAT Scheme of Joint International Inspection covering fishing activities in High Seas
- an ambitious ICCAT multi-annual research programme on bluefin 

* ICCAT – The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas - is the body responsible for ensuring the management of the Atlantic bluefin fisheries.

For more information:Chantal MENARD, WWF Mediterranean Programme, cmenard@wwfmedpo.orgTel.: + 39 346 235 74 81
Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) shoal, captive, Malta, Mediteranean, May 2009
© Wild Wonders of Europe / Zankl / WWF Enlarge
Atlantic bluefin tuna
© Wild Wonders of Europe /Zankl / WWF Enlarge

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