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Bluefin tuna fishery ravaged by illegal fishing, warns World Wildlife Fund

WASHINGTON -- Bluefin tuna stocks in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean are being stripped bare by illegal and unscrupulous fishing, warns a new World Wildlife Fund report. WWF demands an immediate closure of the fishery.

"Without cooperation from the European Union, U.S. efforts to save bluefin tuna populations in the Atlantic will be unsuccessful," said Tom Grasso, director, Marine Conservation Policy, World Wildlife Fund.

An independent study commissioned by WWF, The plunder of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and East Atlantic in 2004 and 2005 - Uncovering the real story, reveals the full extent of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing for bluefin tuna.

Fleets from the European Union (mainly France), Libya and Turkey are the main offenders. These countries are greatly exceeding their fishing quotas and deliberately failing to report much of their massive catches thereby also avoiding paying taxes and bypassing sensible management.

The 42 nation International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas -- where the EU plays a major role -- is responsible for regulating the fishery. However, the annual fishing quota of 32,000 tons, set by ICCAT, was smashed by more than 40 percent in 2004 with a catch of 44,948 tons, rising to 45,547 in 2005. Real catches are likely to amount to well over 50,000 tons -- a figure confirmed by the ICCAT scientific committee.

"The European Commission risks bearing witness to the collapse of this centuries-old fishery," said Grasso. "We urge EU Fisheries Commissioner Borg to show leadership and call for an immediate total closure of the fishery, and request that he supports strong management measures at this November's ICCAT meeting that guarantee a future for the fishery."

The report also reveals deliberate misreporting and laundering of bluefin tuna catches. Unreported tuna catches are increasingly slaughtered and processed at sea before being shipped out on board enormous vessels destined for the lucrative Japanese market.

"Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks risk imminent commercial collapse," said Roberto Mielgo Bregazzi, report author and CEO of Advanced Tuna Ranching Technologies. "In the race to catch shrinking tuna stocks, industrial fleets are switching from traditional fishing grounds to the last breeding refuges in the eastern Mediterranean and Libyan waters."

In addition to calling for an immediate closure of the fishery, WWF urges ICCAT members to adopt a sustainable recovery plan for Atlantic bluefin tuna which must include a dramatic reduction in tuna fishing and farming capacity, improved enforcement and reporting.