The suicidal tendencies of the Turkish tuna fishery

Feature story - May 11, 2009
The Turkish government has set its own catch limit for the endangered Mediterranean bluefin tuna - in total disregard for internationally agreed quotas and scientific advice.

This is the final feeding frenzy of a fishery headed for failure -- fast.

The existing management plan for bluefin tuna is bad enough. By pressuring politicians to ignore the warnings of scientists, the Mediterranean tuna industry has created a suicide pact, not a management plan. Now Turkey, by objecting to even those inadequate restrictions, is telling its legal fleet to fish for everything it can before it's all gone. And to add insult to absurdity, there's still the illegal catch to consider -- and Turkey just got caught red-handed with an illegal landing of between 5 and 10 tonnes of juvenile bluefin tuna in the Turkish port of Karaburun. And this year's bluefin tuna fishing season is only just getting started!

 

Turkey currently operates the largest Mediterranean fleet fishing forbluefin tuna, an economically and ecologically valuable species facing imminent collapse as direct result of overfishing. Northern bluefin tuna have long been an important part of the Mediterranean economy and way of life. In ancient Rome, tuna fishing and salting were two of the empire's most stable industries. Today, virtually all bluefin tuna from the Mediterranean is exported to Japan creating vast profits over the last decade, which have fuelled an industry with no concern for the future of a species that has been reduced to critical levels, threatening its own future and those of hundreds of fishermen.

An international disgrace

Management of bluefin tuna is entrusted to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), an intergovernmental organisation in which the European Union is an active and influential member. In September 2008, an independent performance review of ICCAT notedthat the management of the bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterraneanwas "widely seen as an international disgrace." The Turkish government objected to the bluefin tuna quota that was agreed upon at the ICCAT meeting last November.

The last goodbye

Alongside ICCAT quotas, a minimum legal landing size is set at 30 kg to allow for at least one reproduction cycle before any catch. But catches below this limit have recently been reported by both Turkish and Italian media. Ignoring international quota limits means that Turkey will bring an end to the bluefin tuna business even faster through the commercial extinction of the species.

Since 2006, scientists have been sounding the alarm on the dire state of the bluefin tuna stock. They have advised not to fish above a maximum of 15,000 tonnes, and to protect the species' spawning grounds during the crucial months of May and June. But the spawning grounds are ravaged by industrial fleets every year and the actual haul has been estimated at a shocking 61,100 tonnes in 2007, twice the legal catch for that year, and more than four times the scientifically recommended level. This year, a so called 'recovery plan' for bluefin tuna will legally allow fishing that is 47 percent above the maximum sustainable limit.

No fish, no future

Turkey, and all other fishing nations including European countries, should close the bluefin fishery immediately until management is in strict compliance with the scientific advice, fishing has decreased to sustainable levels and marine reserves are established to protect the bluefin breeding grounds.

Since 2006, we have documented at sea, and compiled numerous cases of illegal fishing in the Mediterranean, including fishing during closed seasons, catches of undersized tuna, illegal reflagging of fishing vessels, illegal use of spotter planes, unlicensed fishing vessels and tuna farms, unregulated transhipments, illegal landings and false declarations, substantial unreported over-catches and further increase of fishing fleet capacity. Since the fishing industry is now completely out of control and leading the bluefin tuna to near-extinction.

We're advocating the creation of a network of no-take marine reserves, protecting 40 percent of the world's oceans, as the long term solution to the overfishing of tuna and other species, and the recovery of our overexploited blue planet. 

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