Closure of bluefin tuna fishery questioned


Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
June 9, 2010

Bluefin tuna-fishing nations are questioning European Union Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki’s decision to close the bluefin tuna purse-seine fishery a week earlier than scheduled.

On Wednesday, Damanaki has ordered French, Spanish and Greek purse seiners in the Mediterranean back to port because they had exhausted their quotas.

“This was not an easy decision, but there is no other way,” said Damanaki, warning that the European Commission had already enacted a zero tolerance policy regarding bluefin tuna overfishing and that it would take all necessary measures to ensure full compliance.

“The closure of the purse seine fishery is necessary to protect fragile stocks of bluefin tuna and to ensure its recovery as envisaged by the recovery plan of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT),” she added.

But French Fisheries Minister Bruno Le Maire took issue with Damanaki’s decision, asking the EC to provide formal proof that the French purse-seine fleet has reached its quota, a press attaché in Le Maire’s office told SeafoodSource.

Le Maire’s office said France will respect the EC’s decision if the country’s fleet has reached its quota. But, if not, “We will ask the EC to leave the French fishermen alone.”

This year’s 13,500-metric-ton bluefin tuna quota is divided between France, Spain and Greece, which have 17, six and one tuna purse seiners, respectively.

Bluefin tuna made international headlines in March when a swathe of countries and conservation organizations lobbied for a ban on international trade of the species at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

But the move was quashed by delegates at the meeting in Qatar, leaving responsibility for stocks firmly in the hands of ICCAT. At the time, Damanaki and Europe Union Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik warned that “if action is not taken, there is a very serious danger that the bluefin tuna will no longer exist.”

Environmental activist group Greenpeace warned on Wednesday that despite the fishery, the “tuna massacre is set to continue,” as non-EU boats are estimated to be responsible for about 40 percent of the total bluefin tuna catch in the Mediterranean. The group claimed that non-EU vessels flying flags from countries like Turkey and Libya are expected to still be fishing even though the EU fishing season is closed.

“Scientists have shown that the only appropriate fishing quota for bluefin tuna is zero. These ships should not have been allowed to fish at all this season,” said Greenpeace campaigner Oliver Knowles.

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