Analysis nets holes in 2010 bluefin tuna catch data

Posted on November, 10 2010

New data seen by conservation organisations WWF and Greenpeace reveals that documentation for 2010 bluefin tuna catches in the Mediterranean Sea is as riddled with rule-flouting and inadequacies as ever before. The conservation organisations urge international fisheries regulators meeting next week in Paris to put an end to the depletion of this key species.
Rome, Italy: New data seen by conservation organisations WWF and Greenpeace reveals that documentation for 2010 bluefin tuna catches in the Mediterranean Sea is as riddled with rule-flouting and inadequacies as ever before.

Cases include catches totally escaping documentation, fishing vessels being misidentified and numerous violations in transferring catches to tuna fattening cages. A majority of the observers newly allocated to Spanish and French vessels noted that they were forced to accept skipper and company diver estimates of the amount of tuna confined to cages.

The analysis of the shortcomings of new and supposedly improved systems to document catches introduced by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), was made on data provided to contracting parties who are scheduled to gather in Paris next week for the ICCAT annual meeting. The body, which has failed to live up to its charter of managing the fishery in accordance with scientific advice for more than four decades, is under severe pressure to take drastic steps to stave off its fishery collapse.

The analysis also follows revelations this week from a major investigation released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) showing a $US 4 billion black market in bluefin tuna was flourishing annually by 2007.

Little has changed, with the analysis suggesting subsequent rule changes have been more cosmetic than real, and the industrial purse seine fishery and the tuna fattening industry it supplies both remaining out of control.

In one case studied, deliberate misreporting enabled a catch of 18 tonnes of bluefin tuna made by a Turkish vessel to entirely escape ICCAT’s documentation system. Key information was duplicated on compulsory ICCAT catch and transfer declarations. The skipper of the purse seine vessel also provided false information on the identity of the towing vessel receiving the fish. A formal inspection carried out on the same fishing vessels reports “serious violations” of the ICCAT rules, including lack of authorisation for delivery to towing vessels which transport the fish to farms.

Of 23 observers in Spanish and French purse seine vessels 15 encountered difficulties in estimating the amount of tuna in the cages, in most cases acknowledging this was “simply impossible” and were left having to accept an estimate by the vessel skipper or divers on tugboats. Of the eight who did not report such problems, three were on board vessels that did not make any catch.

In another example of many irregularities, observers have reported cages not being empty before new transfers of bluefin tuna from purse seiners – with farm operators claiming this practice had been found to attract the incoming tunas.

“It’s easy to find evidence of fraud by just looking at public documents, which makes one wonder what is not being documented. A handful of governments in Europe, among them France, are backing the short-term profits of a corrupt and dying industry over the survival of a species. All the evidence is pointing to a tragic situation for bluefin tuna stocks and a fishery out of control,” said a Greenpeace spokesperson. “The EU’s chief fisheries official has insisted that the bluefin tuna fishery needs to be downscaled. But to give bluefin stocks the best chance of recovery, EU governments should go further and close this fishery altogether.”

“These are cowboys of the oceans who think they can just plunder a natural resource for their own short-term gain and get away with it – such a free-for-all simply cannot be tolerated,” said a WWF spokesperson. “ICCAT must stop this situation of incredible rule-flouting. Under no circumstances must the quota exceed 6,000 tonnes per year – as advised by scientists – and the industrial purse seine fishery and farming must be immediately suspended, before we are talking about just one more marine legend disappearing from our seas.”

These fresh data on the table reinforce the widespread rule-flouting in the fishery exposed in the findings of a comprehensive investigation launched last weekend by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The ICIJ investigation exposes a black market between 1998 and 2007 worth US$4 billion. The new data underline that this disturbing panorama of violations is still firmly in place in 2010.

Greenpeace and WWF strongly urge ICCAT member countries, meeting in Paris 17-27 November, to establish a science-based recovery plan for eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna which ensures the recovery of the species – including a drastic cut in the quota and establishing no-fishing zones in spawning areas.

For further information:
Gemma Parkes, WWF Mediterranean Communications: +39 346 387 3237 /
Atlantska plavoperjana tuna (Thunnus thynnus) na Malti
A captive Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), Malta, Mediteranean.
© Wild Wonders of Europe /Zankl / WWF
The Mediterranean's tuna fleet needs to shed a third of its vessels to fish within the law, and even more to save bluefin stocks according to scientific advice - but 25 new boats are currently under construction