France backs bluefin tuna trade ban


Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
February 3, 2010

France on Wednesday voiced support for an international trade ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna but urged delaying implementation of the ban by 18 months.

After days of back and forth, French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo and Fisheries Minister Bruno Le Maire said the country would back listing Atlantic bluefin tuna under Appendix I of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to protect the species from overfishing.

The announcement came at a press conference on Wednesday. But, in a bid to reassure the country’s fishermen, the two ministers called for three conditions.

First, the ban would be delayed by 18 months. Second, a fleet of small French fishing boats — about 180 vessels — could sell their tuna catch in the European Union. And, finally, the European Commission would compensate fishermen for the loss of revenues.
Worth EUR 16 million to 20 million and employing about 1,000 people, the tuna fishing industry in France comprises 28 tuna fishing vessels with crews of about 12 persons. In addition, 200 small “artisan” boats also fish for tuna from the country’s 2,019-metric-ton quota. Approximately 80 percent of the French bluefin tuna catch is destined for Japan.

Greenpeace criticized France this week for “giving into the short-term interests of its industrial fishing fleet.” Mourad Kahoul, president of the Mediterranean tuna fishermen’s union, anticipated a “huge crisis” for the industry and called for an emergency meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

But on Wednesday, Borloo told the press that France would “support Monaco.” Last July, Monaco proposed an Appendix I listing for Atlantic bluefin tuna, which would effectively suspend international trade of the prized fish.

Then in September, the six tuna-fishing Mediterranean states — Malta, Greece, Italy, Spain, Cyprus and France — voted against the European Commission’s recommendation to support Monaco.

But last week, the tide started to turn when the European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted overwhelmingly to adopt a resolution supporting an Appendix I listing. Sending a clear political signal to the EU member states, the vote saw a 48-member majority shadow the two members who voted against the resolution.

And last week, Italy said it would freeze fishing for bluefin tuna, enabled by financial aid from Brussels. According to the EC, fishermen can receive funding from the European Fisheries Fund if they are required to stop fishing for a particular species.

Pressure now turns to Spain, a major tuna-fishing nation, to back the ban.

The European decision to back the Appendix I listing could come at the end of Febraury, when EC President Jose Manuel Barroso ushers in a fresh batch of commissioners. Greece’s Maria Damanaki will replace Joe Borg as the EC’s fisheries commissioner.

Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks are managed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) as two stocks (eastern and western). In November, ICCAT slashed the eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna quota to 13,500 metric tons in 2010, compared to 22,000 metric tons in 2009.

The environmental community had called for a far greater quota cut to protect eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks. The World Wildlife Fund highlighted 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.

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