Europe divided on bluefin tuna quota cut


Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
November 17, 2010

Politics is dominating Europe’s position on bluefin tuna stocks, as the European Council has failed to back the European Commission’s proposal to slash quotas for the species in 2011.

Despite the rejection, EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki affirmed on Tuesday, “We will continue to follow very closely the situation of this sensitive stock, and we will continue to focus our efforts on control and compliance issues.”

The European position comes as 2011 bluefin tuna quotas are discussed at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) annual meeting, which kicked off in Paris on Wednesday.

ICCAT, which manages bluefin tuna fisheries in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, has been criticized by conservationists for failing to protect the species from overfishing and crack down on illegal fishing, and for ignoring scientific advice when setting quotas. Conservationists claim the reproducing population of Mediterranean bluefin tuna is on the verge of collapse and that only careful stock management can assuage the situation.

The EC is expected at the ICCAT negotiating table on Friday, with discussions between the 48-nation body continuing until the meeting ends on 27 November. According to the EC’s press office, EU member states agreed unanimously on Wednesday that the total allowable catch (TAC) should be in line with scientific opinion, with the goal of reaching a 60 percent to 77 percent probability of a stock recovery by 2022. In other words, they voted to maintain the current TAC, with the possibility of a small reduction.

In 2010, Europe received a quota of 13,500 metric tons for bluefin tuna, divided largely between France, Spain and Greece. But meeting with Europe’s fisheries ministers in October, Damanaki recommended the quota be halved in 2011 to 6,000 metric tons.

At the root of the EC’s proposal was the notion that the TAC should be in line with scientific opinion. At the time, member states were divided into two camps: the non-fishing states that preferred to be on the safe side of scientific opinion and the fishing states, such as France, that sought to maintain the quota.

Earlier this year, delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) quashed a proposed Appendix I international trade ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna. According to Monaco, which introduced the proposal, bluefin tuna numbers in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean have plunged around 75 percent in the past 50 years.

At the time, France voted in favor of a CITES Appendix I listing, following an 18-month delay in execution. But now France’s position is to reject any major reduction in next year’s quota. The country’s bluefin tuna industry is valued at EUR 16 million to 20 million.

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