Debate over bluefin tuna heats up


Chris Dove, contributing editor, reporting from Malaga, Spain

Published on
February 22, 2010

As bluefin tuna fishermen in the Zahara de los Atunes region of Cádiz gathered their fishing nets on Tuesday, Raül Romeva i Rueda of the European Parliament’s Catalunya Green political party led a discussion in Brussels on the species’ proposed international trade ban.

Ahead of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas’ (ICCAT) bluefin tuna compliance committee meeting this week, EU fisheries ministers on Monday pledged to support an Appendix I listing for Atlantic bluefin tuna under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The all-important CITES conference in Doha, Qatar, next month requires the backing of two-thirds of the 175 member countries to be adopted; the ban would be due to take effect in March 2011.

Romeva supported the EU’s move, saying: “I welcome that the European Commission is at last presenting a strong and united front to support a ban in the international trade of bluefin tuna. If the U.S. is serious about respecting scientific advice, as it claims, it should support an immediate closure of the bluefin tuna fishery as well as the international ban, instead of imposing conditions and delays.”

Romeva’s comments come after several U.S. lawmakers last week signed a letter petitioning President Barack Obama to call on the U.S. delegates attending the CITES conference to reject the proposed ban.

U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) are among the lawmakers who signed the petition. Last October, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, backed an Appendix I listing for Atlantic bluefin tuna.

Skeptical of the EUR 34.5 million (USD 46.7 million) in subsidies EU countries provided to the bluefin tuna fishing industry between 2000 and 2009, Romeva said: “The EU must not compound its earlier mistakes by providing yet more taxpayers’ money to those same industrial fishing vessel owners responsible for driving the species and their own businesses to the edge of collapse.”

Spanish Fisheries Minister Elena Espinosa expressed the need to make exceptions for artisanal fleets, to take into account ICCAT’s 2010 bluefin tuna stock assessment from last September, and to review reports from the ICCAT special meeting last November.

Dr. Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries at World Wildlife Fund-Mediterranean, expressed concern that “the overwhelming acknowledgement of, and growing support for, the necessary ban could be undermined by any conditions which might delay or even derail the process.”
Currently holding the EU presidency, Spain will be most affected by the ban. With the species found only in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic, the 2010 quota of 2,526 metric tons is the largest of the EU’s 7,104-metric-ton total allowable catch.

The Cádiz artisanal fleet is allowed to catch 670 metric tons of bluefin tuna this year, while the 2010 global quota is set at 13,500 metric tons.

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