ICCAT: WWF study unveils serious traceability loopholes in Atlantic bluefin tuna farming
Most of the bluefin tuna caught in the Mediterranean is fished by industrial purse seine vessels. The fish is transferred alive to transport floating cages then tugged to fattening farms where it remains for typically 6-8 months before it is killed and shipped mostly to Japan.
ICCAT has established a traceability system called the “Bluefin tuna Catch Document” (BCD). Unfortunately traceability is lost when fish is mixed in cages at farms. WWF analyzed the BCDs pertaining to 2012 catches. The results point to high discrepancies between the reported weight of tunas caged in the farms and the reported weight at harvest, far beyond the range of potential growth in the farms.
“This situation clearly points to the fishery still being out of control. This is an additional reason to follow the recommendation from the ICCAT scientific committee this year of not increasing the current quotas. Real catches in this fishery are probably much higher than the legal quotas and the reported catch figures”, said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of the Mediterranean Fisheries Programme at WWF.
Based on official data of weight at catch and at harvest reported under the BCD scheme, the WWF study “Bluefin tuna farming growth rates in the Mediterranean”, has estimated fattening ratios of farmed bluefin tunas in Mediterranean farms. Fattening ratios computed in this analysis ranged from -6 % up to 289 % and 80 % of these fattening ratios were higher than 40 %. According to the scientific literature, fattening ratio values for adult tunas under prevalent conditions in tuna fattening farms in the Mediterranean do not exceed 30-40 %. The data reported, therefore, seem to suggest that most fattening ratios derived from the reported catch and harvested figures in BCDs could not be explained biologically.
These numbers raise particular concerns over the accuracy of the reporting of the fish caught and transferred to the farms and clearly exemplify the magnitude of the problem, which has the potential to mask unreported catches.
“WWF calls on ICCAT to adopt urgently a technical procedure, such as stereoscopical imaging methodologies, that ensures the accurate quantification of fish caught and caged in farms on a routine basis. This is essential to close a major loophole that undermines the overall performance of the current bluefin tuna management system, allowing any potential unreported catches to be easily laundered”, concluded Tudela.
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WWF asks of ICCAT 2013
On Atlantic bluefin tuna (East Atlantic and Mediterranean):
• No increase of the TAC above the 2013 level (13,400t).
• Review and strengthen the current fishing capacity reduction plan to bring real catch capacity down to the level of fishing possibilities.
• Radically reform the current quantification and traceability of fish from the catching purse seine vessels and throughout the farms.
• Fully support ICCAT SCRS in its endeavor to developing a new methodology and gathering new data leading to a much more reliable and robust stock assessment in 2015.
• Adopt shark finning ban
Notes to the editor
If we were to name an iconic species of the Mediterranean sea, it would no doubt be the Atlantic bluefin tuna, one of the biggest and one of the most commercially valuable fish in the world. Precisely for this, it has been heavily overfished for decades and the victim of widespread illegal fishing, especially in its main spawning grounds across the Mediterranean. The millennia-old bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean entered a phase of rapid and intense deterioration the last decade of the 20th Century when the new practice of farming wild-caught tunas, formerly unknown in the Mediterranean, mushroomed without control. This generated a perverse overfishing spiral as the growing demand for live large tunas fuelled the massive development of the industrial purse seine fleets and their expansion over virtually all Mediterranean waters where the bluefin tuna gathered to reproduce.WWF was first to warn about this new threat and since 2001 has led the international campaign to avoid the collapse of the bluefin tuna population and to ensure a rational and sustainable fishing activity.
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