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Is it the end of the line for tuna?

By Jennifer Rankin  -  30.07.2009 / 04:55 CET
Bluefin tuna has been overfished for decades and could disappear from European waters, taking the EU's credibility on fisheries with it.

The European Union's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) will be judged by what happens to bluefin tuna. The CFP's credibility will be badly damaged if the silvery-grey fish disappears from the waters of the  Atlantic and Mediterranean. 

Scientists fear that bluefin tuna, having been overfished for decades, is at risk of disappearing for good. “Collapse could be a real possibility in the foreseeable future,” said a report last year by scientists for the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the international body that manages the fish. The only thing protecting the fish in European waters is the EU's inspection and control regime, the teams of EU inspectors who check that fishing fleets are sticking to their quotas. The missions are more active than ever before, but not everyone thinks that they are enough to stave off collapse.

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Putting bluefin tuna on the CITES list would be an acknowledgement that fisheries management has failed
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During this year's three-month mission (mid-April to mid-June) officials carried out more than 600 inspections and found 96 infringements of the rules. EU ships and planes patrolled the seas from the eastern Mediterranean as far west as the Azores.

Co-ordination

The mission was organised by the Community Fisheries Control Agency, an EU body created in 2005 to boost the EU's hitherto poor performance in enforcing its own fishing rules. The CFCA does not have its own inspectors, but co-ordinates teams from different EU countries. Seven countries are involved in the bluefin tuna mission: Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain. The CFCA will present its report in the autumn.

In a statement earlier this month, a spokesperson said that it was too early to reach final conclusions, but that “implementation had been very successful in terms of co-operation between national services” and that “operations have been more effective than last year”. Inspections were more effective because of training of inspectors, the statement continued. Although the industry “did more...to comply with the rules”, the “number of apparent infringements discovered increased”, which the CFCA attributes to more effective inspections rather than an increase in fishermen bending the rules.

Gilberto Ferrari, director of Federcoopesca, an association representing the Italian fishing industry, said that controls had been “very hard” this year. He is worried that next year could bring an even tougher regime with an EU inspector on board every boat.

For Gemma Parkes, in the Rome office of the conservation organisation WWF, it is too early to judge how effective the EU mission has been. But she said “we know that the stocks are in dire straits and we know they are collapsing in real time as we speak”.

Earlier this year, WWF warned that breeding stocks could be wiped out by 2012 if the current pace of fishing goes unchecked. For conservationists, the time for quotas has passed; nothing less than a full moratorium on fishing in the Mediterranean can save the stocks now.

© 2014 European Voice. All rights reserved.
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A last chance for recovery?

The bluefin tuna has not yet reached ‘panda bear' status, but it is getting that way. Increasingly, governments are arguing that it should be put on international conservation lists.

In recent weeks, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK have all come out in favour of regulating bluefin tuna under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This treaty is best known for protecting elephants and tigers, although thousands of plants and animals fall under its protection (see box below). Putting bluefin tuna on the CITES list would be an acknowledgement that fisheries management has failed. Sigmar Gabriel, the German environment minister, described EU efforts to protect the tuna as “half-hearted” and “unsuccessful” and called for a ban in international trade – the strongest possible measure under CITES.

Consumers in northern Europe have an appetite for bluefin tuna, so their support is important. But France's intervention is arguably the most significant. President Nicolas Sarkozy called for a ban on trade in bluefin tuna – a step further than the official text of the French government policy paper, which contains a vague proposal that bluefin tuna should be on the CITES list in line with scientific advice.

The convention regulates trade in different ways, depending on how endangered species are. But either way, Sarkozy's declaration was a striking about-turn. Just one year earlier the French government complained vigorously when the European Commission decided to close a bluefin tuna fishery. Michel Barnier, the then fisheries and agriculture minister, insisted there was no evidence that French fishermen had exceeded their quota.
As the appropriately named Jean Quatremer noted, in his blog for the French newspaper Libération, Sarkozy's call for a “total rupture” with EU fishing policy was in fact a “rupture” with his own policy.

Other tuna-fishing nations are taking note of the CITES plan but have not taken a position. A spokeswoman for the Spanish government said that Madrid would study any proposal put forward to add bluefin tuna to the CITES list.

She said: “It should be noted that the bluefin tuna is protected through the ICCAT [International Committee for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas]...and among the measures that the organisation has launched is the recovery plan for bluefin tuna taken in 2008 in Marrakesh.” The plan sets out rules on bluefin tuna fishing up to 2022 and has been transcribed into EU law.

Conservationists say that getting bluefin tuna on the CITES list could be “the last chance” for the species to recover. But some fishing organisations are resolutely opposed, mainly because they do not accept the scientific consensus on bluefin tuna.

“Putting the tuna inside the CITES will be very dangerous for the market,” said Gilberto Ferrari, director-general of Italian fishing organisation Federcoopesca. “We are not sure that this is a species in danger. We agree with the idea to protect species, but maybe the things we hear about tuna are not right,” he said.

Supporters of the trade plan hope that bluefin tuna can be added to the endangered species list in March 2010, when CITES members have their next meeting. In the meantime, the fate of bluefin tuna could depend on whether the governments of big Mediterranean fishing countries – Italy and Spain – can withstand lobbying pressure from their fishing industries.

WHAT IS CITES?

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), came into force in 1975 after 80 governments agreed to regulate the trade in wildlife for the good of conservation. Today, 175 governments have signed the convention, including all EU member states.

Around 5,000 species of animal and 28,000 plants have the unhappy distinction of being on the CITES lists. Species can be protected in two ways. The most endangered species are protected by a near-total trade ban. There are a few tightly-policed exceptions. But other species can be imported or exported with the right permits, which is a way to help governments avoid their over-exploitation in the future.

The deadline for submitting proposals to include new species on the list is 14 October and these will be voted on at the next CITES conference in Doha, Qatar, on 13-25 March 2010.

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