Showdown looms for tuna in Brussels

Posted on 28 August 2009  | 
Brussels, Belgium / Rome, Italy - - European Union member states and the European Commission will decide in the next week whether to support bluefin tuna conservation – or to encourage the continued willful overexploitation of an endangered marine resource.

Today, the European Commission’s Directorate General for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, DG MARE, will consider DG Environment’s support for a listing of the severely overfished Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to temporarily ban all international trade – the same day that EU member states are asked to give their own feedback on the proposal.

“It would be scandalous if the European Commission were to allow the region’s most emblematic marine species associated with a thousand-year-old fishing tradition to go extinct on its watch,” said Tony Long, Director of WWF’s European Policy Office in Brussels. “This would be a shameful legacy for the Barroso Commission. They must back the proposal to temporarily ban international trade.”

Following an initial proposal tabled in July by the Principality of Monaco, several EU countries – France, UK, Netherlands, Germany, Austria – quickly expressed support to list Atlantic bluefin tuna on CITES Appendix I, which would give the overexploited species a chance of recovery.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was first to express his country’s support for an international trade ban through CITES, saying: “It is against this great responsibility that we will be judged by our children and the generations to come.”

In addition, the European Commission’s Directorate General for the Environment has since recommended in a draft report – excerpted in a recent Financial Times story – that “from a scientific and technical point of view, the criteria for the listing of Atlantic bluefin tuna appear to be met. (...) There is no doubt about the link between international trade and overexploitation of the species.”

If the EU Commission and member states cannot reach consensus today, the decision risks instead running to a showdown of all 27 European Commissioners, as early as next Wednesday.

“It would be extraordinary if DG MARE, the very department tasked with protecting this iconic species, sought to block a CITES listing to ban trade in this endangered animal,” said Tony Long. “How could any of us have faith that the Commission is serious in wanting to end the catastrophic policy failures in the existing Common Fisheries Policy?”

Listing Atlantic bluefin tuna on CITES Appendix I would be a real chance for the species to recover from decades of massive overfishing and overexploitation, plagued by illegal takes and disregard for scientific advice.

Once bluefin tuna shows signs of recovery, WWF hopes to see a sustainably managed, thriving fishery in the EU and around the Mediterranean again in the years to come.

The 2007 quota for Mediterranean bluefin tuna is more than double that recommended by scientists to avoid the high risk of collapse.
© WWF-Canon / Ezequiel NAVÍO Enlarge

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