European Union sinks tuna agreement

Tuna management body lives up to reputation as "international disgrace"

Feature story - 25 November, 2008
Shameless. Disastrous. The international body responsible for "managing" what's left of the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna stock has ignored scientific advice, the demands of Greenpeace supporters around the world, and the pleas of the governments of Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Norway, South Africa and the United States to save the fishery from collapse.

Captive Bluefin Tuna inside a transport cage.Greenpeace is calling on the countries of the Mediterranean to protect bluefin tuna with marine reserves in their breeding and feeding areas.

Bluefin tuna is highlyprized in Asian markets as sushi, and overfishing has decimated thestocks. Bluefin are slow to mature and many young tuna are caughtbefore they have the chance to reproduce. Greenpeace and other environmental groups have called for the closure of the bluefin tuna fisheries, to give them time to recover. But the governments responsible for managing the fishery are refusing to listen.

The annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), concluded in Marrakech with an agreement allowing over 22,000 tonnes of bluefin tuna to be landed -- around 7,500 tonnes over the level recommended by scientists to avoid the collapse of the population.

The last-chance tuna bazaar

Tuna populations in the Atlantic and Mediterranean fall under the 'management' of ICCAT, a body made up of government representation from 45 countries plus the European Community. But this year's session looked more like a bazaar, in which buyers haggled over the last remaining tuna, than an international meeting.

The management plan they agreed to 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 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.

The pressure from the European countries has been so strong that they have even managed to slow downthe 'payback' for the illegal catches made in the region in 2007.

Time for new management


"The game is over - 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 thespecies."


CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. 

"These past seven days have demonstrated that ICCAT is a farce," said Losada.

In 2006, following years of extremely high levels of pirate fishing, among others by European Union fishing vessels, ICCAT agreed a bluefin tuna "recovery plan" that set a 'Total Allowable Catch' of 29,500 tonnes for the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea.


ICCAT's own Scientific Committee recommended a sustainable limit of 15,000 tonnes. Since then, the very same scientists have estimated that actual bluefin tuna catches were about 61,000 tonnes in 2007.


Greenpeace demanded a closure of the fishery until a proper recovery plan is inplace 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.



The European Union and the main fishing countries such as Spain and France, which currently leads the Union of 27 Member States, should bear the brunt of the criticism for this shameful outcome. They have again placed short term financial gain ahead of the long-term survival of the species, and of the livelihood of fishermen that depend on it.

A recently released performance review of ICCAT written by a panel of experts appointed by ICCAT itself recommended "the suspension of fishing on bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean" and states that "the management ... of this bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean is widely seen as an international disgrace."

Sadly, ICCAT has lived up to that reputation.

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