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WWF Outfits Bluefin Tuna with Tags to Shed Light on Population Decline

Tuna Tagging Project will Reveal Tuna Migratory Routes and Behavior

Palma de Mallorca, SPAIN, August 14, 2008 – Key answers about the migratory behavior of overfished bluefin tuna will be revealed with the launch of a three-year Mediterranean tuna tagging project in Spain’s Balearic Islands, led by WWF scientists. Media can attend the tagging launch from August 27 to September 2 to observe the activities first-hand and speak to WWF fisheries experts on the bluefin tuna crisis.

“The plan behind this project is to fill the gap between the little we do know about bluefin behavior in the Mediterranean and what we need to know,” said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean. “When we have better data, we would urge fisheries decision-makers to use it to make better-informed choices for the management of this endangered species.”

Bluefin tuna populations have experienced alarming population declines, due to extreme overfishing, poor international conservation management and high levels of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Current annual catches, which often include juvenile fish, are estimated to be in the region of 60,000 tons – double the level allowed by law and four times the amount considered sustainable by scientists.

“Bluefin tuna stocks are on the brink of collapsing, which would be catastrophic not only for the species, but for everyone who depends on these fish for their livelihoods and survival,” said Mark Stevens, Senior Program Officer for the WWF-US Marine Fisheries Program. “This project will help arm us with the information we need to fuel our work to restore tuna populations to healthy levels.”

Very few tagging studies have been done in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean so far, with activity focusing instead mostly on the western Atlantic. WWF’s tagging project, called On the Med Tuna Trail, will collect information on the position and depth of tuna. Pop-up tags will be fitted on adult fish and will record the information at a frequency of once per minute. The tags release from the fish at a specified time and float to the surface for the data to be read by satellite. Important lifecycle information on the bluefin will also come from archival tags clipped onto juvenile fish and recovered at their point of catch. These tagging activities will launch on August 25, 2008 and the full project will run for three years, through 2010.

WWF is calling for a recovery period moratorium on bluefin tuna fishing if effective rules for a sustainable fishery cannot be drawn up and enforced. The organization is also promoting the establishment of a tuna sanctuary in the Balearic Islands, which are located in the Western Mediterranean Sea.

Further WWF tagging events across Mediterranean waters will roll out in September and in 2009.

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Footage, photos and interviews available on request.

Media can attend WWF’s tagging launch in the Mediterranean to observe the tagging activity and speak to WWF fisheries experts on the bluefin tuna crisis. The press trip takes place between August 27 and September 2 off the coast of Roses, Catalonia, Spain. Contact us for more information.

WWF has launched an online boycott of Mediterranean tuna until a recovery and management plan based on science is put in place and is urging consumers to pledge their support.  See: http://passport.panda.org

For more on the Mediterranean bluefin crisis and to follow the path of the tuna, visit www.panda.org/tuna and for more information on fisheries and WWF’s marine work visit www.worldwildlife.org/waveforward.