Northern bluefin tuna

At its annual meeting in Recife, Brazil, on Sunday, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) voted to set the 2010 eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna quota at 13,500 metric tons, down from 22,000 metric tons in 2009 and 28,500 metric tons in 2008.

The 48-nation body, which manages the bluefin tuna fisheries in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, also voted to reduce purse seiners’ fishing season to one month, running from 15 May to 15 June.

The European Commission applauded ICCAT’s decision.

“Our goal is to ensure the return to a healthy bluefin tuna stock and a viable and sustainable fishery for our fleet,” said EC Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg, who called the decision “concrete” and “ambitious.”

“Admittedly, ICCAT had a very tough task this year,” he noted, “but it has certainly risen to challenge.”

However, the environmental community, which was calling for a much larger quota cut to protect eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks, criticized the decision. The World Wildlife Fund pointed to a study presented to ICCAT that showed even an 8,000-metric ton annual quota would have only a 50 percent chance of allowing stocks to recover by 2023.

“Today’s outcome is entirely unscientific and entirely unacceptable,” said Dr. Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries at WWF Mediterranean. “This reduction of allowable catch is not based on any particular scientific advice to recover the stock with high probability — it is just an arbitrary political measure and only for one year. Now more than ever WWF sees a global trade ban as the only hope for Atlantic bluefin.”

Monaco has proposed to list Atlantic bluefin tuna on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which would effectively suspend international trade of the species. The 175-nation CITES will vote on the proposal at its meeting in Doha, Qatar, in March. Several countries, including the United States, support it.

Also at its meeting, ICCAT voted to prohibit the sale of bigeye thresher sharks (excluding Mexico, which can land 110 bigeye threshers annually) but failed to adopt measures to protect porbeagle and shortfin mako sharks.

“Clearly ICCAT has not learned from its mistakes and is willing to let sharks go the way of the bluefin tuna,” said Elizabeth Griffin, an Oceana marine scientist.

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