Europe reacts to bluefin tuna vote

There is a danger that Atlantic bluefin tuna will no longer exist if action is not taken, warned European fisheries and environment commissioners after Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) delegates quashed a proposed international trade ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna at its meeting in Doha, Qatar, on Thursday.

“We look to ICCAT (the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) to take its responsibility to ensure that stocks are managed in a sustainable way. If action is not taken, there is a very serious danger that the bluefin tuna will no longer exist,” said Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik and Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki in a joint statement on Thursday.

They said they regret that other countries were not convinced with the merits of an Appendix I listing for Atlantic bluefin tuna, adding that they’re disappointed that the European Union asked for a delay in the implementation until May 2011 to address fishermen’s concerns.

ICCAT is the inter-governmental fishery organization that manages eastern and western Atlantic bluefin stocks. ICCAT has been criticized by conservationists for failing to protect the species from overfishing, for not cracking down on illegal fishing, and for ignoring scientific advice when setting quotas.

In a separate press release, France said it would “propose to the EU to continue its efforts to convince CITES members to support an Appendix II listing,” which is less restrictive than Appendix I.

Conservationists were deeply disappointed by the “no” vote; adding that an Appendix I listing would have brought much-needed relief to overfished stocks. According to the Monaco proposal, bluefin tuna numbers in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean have plunged around 75 percent in the past 50 years.

An Appendix I listing would have banned all international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna, although domestic trade would have been permitted. An Appendix II listing strengthens international trade restrictions by requiring export permits.

After months of uncertainty, France finally clarified its position on Atlantic bluefin last month in favor of an Appendix I listing but only following an 18-month delay in execution. The European Commission, whose 27 members vote as one at the CITES meeting, came out in support of an Appendix I listing, but only on condition that the ban be postponed.

The bluefin tuna quota for European fishermen was slashed from 22,000 metric tons in 2009 to 13,500 metric tons in 2010, and for France this year’s quota stands at 2,019 metric tons, compared to 3,591 metric tons last year.

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