By Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris
Published on 21 September, 2009
France, Spain and Italy are among the handful of European Union member states that failed to back a proposal to temporarily suspend international trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a decision EU Environment Commissioner Starvos Dimas “regrets.”
At a meeting on Monday, the EU failed to reach a qualified majority, passing on a recommendation from the European Commission to support Monaco’s bid to protect ailing bluefin tuna stocks from overfishing.
“The Mediterranean EU member states, except Portugal, voted against the recommendation,” a Fisheries Commission spokesperson told SeafoodSource.
Earlier this month, Dimas and Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Commissioner Joe Borg agreed to adopt a joint position backing Monaco’s proposal. The EC underlined its “grave concerns” about the state of Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks due to overfishing.
The executive body had argued that the EU could offer its provisional support to Monaco’s proposal, while waiting for more scientific evidence on the population status of Atlantic bluefin tuna and the outcome of the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in November.
But six Mediterranean states — Malta, Greece, Italy, France, Spain and Cyprus — failed to give the proposal the green light. As a result, any decision to reverse their no-vote — they will have the opportunity before the March CITES meeting — now hangs on fresh evidence from ICCAT scientists, expected just prior to the next ICCAT meeting in November.
If the ICCAT data shows the current management recovery plan is improving stocks, the Mediterranean states may not be inclined to endorse Monaco’s proposal.
"Basically, we’re not surprised that these Mediterranean countries voted against [the proposal]. But ultimately this doesn’t alter the commission’s proposal to back Monaco, due to the comitology procedure,” Aaron McCloughlin, head of EU marine program for the World Wildlife Fund, told SeafoodSource.
The comitology procedure is a legal instrument available to the EC. For the bluefin tuna controversy, this means that despite a minority group of member states voting against the EC’s proposal on Monday, the EC can still retain its position to back Monaco at the March CITES meeting.
“Now more than ever, every effort had to be made to give the ICCAT multi-annual plan greater clout and to make it more effective, in line with scientific advice,” said Borg. “ICCAT members had to realize that the very future of this iconic stock depended on it.”