Bluefin tuna

Two days after the European Council failed to back the European Commission’s recommendation to cut the total allowable catch (TAC) for Atlantic bluefin tuna, the environmental camp is turning up the heat on fisheries officials.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) is meeting in Paris though 27 November to set the 2011 bluefin tuna TAC in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean. On Wednesday, the first day of the meeting, the council announced that it unanimously agreed to support TACs “in line” with ICCAT’s scientific advice.

The vote has drawn a lot of fire from the environmental camp, which deems ICCAT’s science fundamentally flawed and accuses the council of caving to political pressure from bluefin tuna-fishing states like Spain, France, Italy and Malta.

On Thursday, Greenpeace-EU oceans policy director Saskia Richartz called the state of EU fisheries “pitiful,” denouncing the Netherlands, Sweden and Greece for abstaining from the vote and the United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark and Austria for withdrawing their opposition.

“Would you board a plane with only a 60 to 77 percent chance of arriving in one piece? The EU is gambling away the future of a valuable fish resource,” said Richartz, pointing out that EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki supports a reduction in the bluefin tuna TAC.

On Thursday, the Pew Charitable Trusts released a survey that found the majority of people in Spain (94 percent) and France (92 percent) favor suspending bluefin tuna fishing until populations recover and new management rules are enacted. The five-question poll of 2,000 adults in the two nations was commissioned by Pew and conducted by Edge Research last week.

The World Wildlife Fund is also actively pushing ICCAT to slash the bluefin tuna TAC, from 13,500 metric tons this year to between 0 and 6,000 metric tons this year, insisting that only an “ambitious, science-based” management plan will allow Atlantic bluefin tuna to recover.

“ICCAT has long been the laughing stock on the world stage of fisheries management,” said Dr. Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries at WWF-Mediterranean, on Wednesday. “The depletion of fragile and finite marine resources, and condemning to ruin of centuries-old traditions and livelihoods, is no joke.”

ClientEarth, a group of environmental lawyers, last month said the EU is legally obligated to protect the bluefin tuna resource. “EU law demands that all fish stocks are at sustainable levels by 2020. The council’s position means that the EU is now asking ICCAT to secure only a 30 to 45 percent likelihood that bluefin tuna will recover by 2020. This is illegal under EU law,” said the London-based organization.

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