Portode Galinhas, Brazil:New bluefin tuna catch estimates show Mediterranean fishing fleets continuing to make a mockery of fishing quotas set by the beleaguered Atlantic tuna commission.
The new catch estimates – themselves likely to severely underestimate the effect of continuing rampant illegal fishing – are also around four times the level scientists estimate would give the collapsing tuna population only limited chances of recovery over a time span of more than a decade.
Scientists attached to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) estimated the 2008 bluefin catch at 34,120 tonnes, well over last year’s quota of 28,500 tonnes set under the discredited 2006 ICCAT “recovery plan”.
Last year, ICCAT set a 22,000-tonne catch quota for 2009 in a controversial response to its scientists’ recommendations for a quota as low as 8,500 tonnes.
The new estimates come as ICCAT considers radical amendments to management measures in the face of rising calls for an international trade ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna and a supporting suspension of the fishery.
“New estimates lodged with ICCAT’s science committee show that one quarter of the latest estimated bluefin tuna catch would give us just a toss of the coin chance of recovering the tuna population by 2023,” said Dr Sergi Tudela, WWF Mediterranean.
Dr Tudela said he believed the latest estimates themselves were well under the real catch.
“To accept these figures at face value we have to accept a huge reduction in the amount of illegal fishing over the previous year,” he said. “I just don’t see the evidence or the reasoning for this miraculous drop in illegal fishing, while there is abundant evidence that pirate fishing remains rampant.”
ICCAT’s scientific committee notes that the estimates take no account of illegal fishing by unregistered boats.
The French navy reported dubious catch data and a lack of observers in intercepted Turkish bluefin boats, investigations are underway into the reflagging of vessels in Algerian waters and a Spanish study revealed laundering of undersize tuna through tuna fattening farms for the Japanese fresh tuna trade.
Opening the ICCAT meeting, chair Dr Fabio Hazin of Brazil said ICCAT had to set up “an efficient mechanism for the monitoring and control of the fishing fleets” and capable of “applying penalties proportional to the infringements detected”.
“We have been very much able to impose sanctions on non-members in the past and time has also come for ICCAT to show it does not have double standards, and that it is equally determined to also impose sanctions on its members in the same way it does with non-members,” he said.
If overfishing of tuna, particularly the Atlantic bluefin tuna, continues, the world fisheries will be faced with an ecological disaster.