Decision Pushes Bluefin Tuna to Brink of Collapse

July 6, 2010

Marrakech, Morocco — The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has decided to allow the massive overfishing of endangered bluefin tuna, putting the species at imminent risk of collapse and commercial extinction.

The Commission’s scientific committee had recommended that 7500 tons of tuna be caught to avoid any further decrease in population. Under pressure from the European Union, the Commission instead allowed a catch of 22,500 tons.

"ICCAT has missed its last chance to save the bluefin tuna from stock collapse," said Sebastian Losada, Greenpeace Spain oceans campaigner, who has been attending the Marrakech meeting. "Bluefin tuna has become an endangered species because of ICCAT mismanagement. It's time to take the fishery out of their hands and look to Conventions like CITES to impose trade restrictions on the species."

The bluefin, which is highly prized for sushi, is one of the most extraordinary animals in the sea: the size of a small elephant, it can move faster than a cheetah, reaching speeds of more than 50 miles per hour within seconds. Its numbers have declined to the brink of extinction in recent years due to both legal and illegal overfishing.

The European Union, representing the majority of Mediterranean countries with interests in the bluefin tuna fishery, bullied other parties in the meeting into agreeing to management proposals which completely fail to follow the advice of ICCAT's own scientific body to substantially reduce fishing and protect the species' spawning grounds.

Despite efforts by a number of concerned countries – Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Norway, South Africa and the United States – they were unable to overcome EU opposition to measures that would save the species.

The new management plan fails to protect the spawning population and merely shortens the purse seine fishing season, responsible for the bulk of illegal catches, by 10 days. The pressure from the European countries has been so strong that they have even managed to slow down the 'payback' for the illegal catches made in the region in 2007.

In 2006, following years of extremely high levels of pirate fishing by European Union fishing vessels among others, ICAAT’s scientific committee recommended a limit of 15,000 tons. Instead, the Commission permitted a catch of 29,500 tons. Because of pirate fishing, the scientific committee now estimates that actual bluefin tuna catches were about 61,000 tons in 2007.

Greenpeace has been calling for a closure of the fishery until a proper recovery plan is in place, including at a very minimum a Total Allowed Catch (TAC) in line with the scientific advice, a seasonal closure covering the months of May, June and July and the establishment of marine reserves to protect the bluefin tuna spawning grounds.

A recently released performance review of ICCAT written by a panel of experts appointed by ICCAT itself states that "the management by ICCAT members of this bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean is widely seen as an international disgrace." The panel itself recommends "the suspension of fishing on bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean until the CPCs fully comply with ICCAT recommendations on bluefin."

"Once again, short term financial gain has been put before the long-term survival of the species, and of the livelihood of fishermen who depend on it," said Phil Kline, a senior Greenpeace oceans campaigner and former commercial fisherman of twenty-nine years. "The independent review panel was right – ICCAT´s management of the fishery is an international disgrace. If ICAAT won’t act, we need to find another authority to do what’s needed before someone eats the last bluefin."

“Taking Tuna Out of the Can,” Greenpeace Report on the State of the World’s Tuna:

For Greenpeace’s submission to ICCAT 2008:

Greenpeace is campaigning for a global network of fully protected marine reserves covering 40 percent of our oceans as an essential way to protect our seas from the ravages of climate change, to restore the health of fish stocks and protect ocean life from habitat destruction and collapse. It comprised of 28 independent national/regional offices in over 40 countries across Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific.

VVPR info: Jane Kochersperger, Media Officer, + 1 202 680 3798 cell Phil Kline, Oceans Campaigner, + 1 202 271 6710

Notes: For Greenpeace’s submission to ICCAT 2008: B-Roll/Photos Available

We Need Your Voice Join Us!

Want to learn more about tax-deductible giving, donating stock and estate planning?

Visit Greenpeace Fund, a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) charitable entity created to increase public awareness and understanding of environmental issues through research, the media and educational programs.