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.
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.
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.