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Close it or lose it: Bluefin tuna fishery ravaged by illegal fishing


05 Jul 2006, Gland, Switzerland – Bluefin tuna stocks in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean are being stripped bare by illegal and unscrupulous fishing, warns a new WWF report. The global conservation organization demands an immediate closure of the fishery.

The 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 EU (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 (ICCAT), where the EU plays a major role, is responsible for regulating the fishery. However, the annual fishing quota of 32,000 tonnes set by ICCAT was smashed by more than 40 per cent in 2004 with a catch of 44,948 tonnes, rising to 45,547 in 2005. Real catches are likely to amount to well over 50,000 tonnes, a figure confirmed by the ICCAT scientific committee.

“The European Commission risks bearing witness to the collapse of this centuries-old fishery,” said Dr Simon Cripps, Director of WWF’s Global Marine Programme.

“We urge EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe 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 report author, Roberto Mielgo Bregazzi, 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.

If ICCAT fails to do this WWF will mobilize traders and consumers in the major markets of Japan and the US to stop buying bluefin tuna from this fishery.


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