New Orleans - In advance of a critical meeting of government and industry leaders on the fate of vulnerable Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) today called on participants to make urgent, far-reaching moves to end mismanagement and stop illegal fishing and farming methods used to produce tuna to meet growing consumer demands from the United States, China, Japan and Korea.
The 14th Special Meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT), an intergovernmental body, will convene in New Orleans from November 15 to 21 as a recent report from Advanced Tuna Ranching Technologies (ATRT) confirms that the highly exploited tuna stock may soon be commercially extinct. The report highlights the illegality and unsustainability of a number of tuna fishing and "fattening" practices in the Mediterranean.
"Current catches are far above the ICCAT quotas," said Tom Grasso, director of WWF-US Marine Conservation Policy. "WWF has consistently documented poor management of this overexploited stock, reporting widespread violations of ICCAT rules."
According to the ATRT report, the amount of tuna farmed increased by over 30 percent in just two years, from 2002 to 2004. The authors also mention that a 16,000 short ton stock of tuna fished and farmed in 2003 was still waiting to be sold in Japan before this year's fishing season even started, while some 31,000 short tons are expected to be produced this year. "These data show how the fast-growing tuna farming businesses are out of control," said Paolo Guglielmi, head of WWF Mediterranean's marine unit.
WWF's specific recommendations include replacing the ICCAT quota system with a new reporting system. "The current quota system is little more than a political tool, hiding practices of tuna fishing, shipping, processing and trading that violate existing rules. This new method WWF is proposing would involve real time monitoring of all catches by a centralized ICCAT body," said Guglielmi.
Real time reporting follows the transfer of live fish, where the catch size is accurately assessed using video recording and acoustic methods, or immediately after the fishing operation of the fish are harvested dead.
"This monitoring of catches, by independent observers during the fishing and farming high season, would allow ICCAT to close all fleets of the purse seine fishery once the overall quota has been reached. National fleets catching in excess of their national quota allocations would be severely sanctioned by a reduction of fishing for the following year," said Grasso.
WWF also recommends that the total quota of the East Atlantic stock be immediately lowered to levels recommended by scientists. The comprehensive recovery plan would, in the long-term, restore tuna populations to healthy levels.
Specific to tuna fish farming, WWF asks for a moratorium on new tuna farming plans and the attribution of specific quotas of the total tuna catches for farms. Finally, WWF recommends that a quota be allocated to ICCAT delegations' fishing industries, out of their overall catch quotas on the East Atlantic bluefin tuna stock.