Bluefin Tuna Warning Shot Already Fired
By James Wright, SeaFood Business senior editor
23 June, 2008
The European Union is a global seafood hub. Growing consumption rates have made Europe the world's No. 1 market for seafood - the strength of the euro makes the region a tempting market for exporters. And for the most part, the EU is years ahead of the United States in terms of sustainability awareness. So why hasn't the 27-member-state community protected its dwindling bluefin tuna stocks?
EU fisheries regulators last week accused fishermen in France and Italy of misreporting tuna catches and exceeding their quotas in the eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. They also banned bluefin tuna fishing for trawlers flying the flags of Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy and Malta; a ban for Spain becomes effective today.
"This year again, the fishery has been marred by countless failures to properly implement the rules which have been agreed at [an] international level to manage the bluefin tuna stock sustainably," the European Commission said in a statement.
The harvest should now be closed entirely to all countries and all fishing methods. Surveys indicate that tuna populations in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean are tumbling as fishermen race to meet insatiable demand for bluefin, a species prized by sushi chefs for its flavor, color and fat content.
Last November, Bill Hogarth, then director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, pleaded for a three- to five-year bluefin tuna moratorium in those waters. Environmental groups World Wildlife Fund, Pew Charitable Trusts and Environmental Defense supported the action.
However, Hogarth's appeal, one of his final acts as head of NMFS before retiring a month later, was largely ignored by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, which regulates EU tuna fishing.
Considering the sophisticated techniques being used by tuna fishermen, including the illegal use of spotter planes to locate fish, stopping fishing even with a complete ban won't be easy. IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing is reportedly still occurring in the Mediterranean.
But any message sent to pirate fishermen should also be sent to buyers who pay a king's ransom for bluefin, which is the main reason tuna stocks are at risk. In Japan, an exceptional bluefin can command as much money as a BMW, which only heightens the chances of covert dealings.
Sustainability awareness in the EU might not be so far ahead after all.
23 June, 2008