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Spain defies scientific advice to demand higher bluefin tuna quotas


Spain is leading attempts to win a significant increase in bluefin tuna landings against the advice of scientists.

Miguel Arias Cañete, the Spanish fisheries minister, is to demand an increase in the Total Allowable Catch on November 18 when the International Committee for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meets in South Africa for a week.

His call for an increase goes against the advice of ICCAT’s scientists who have advised that the total catch of bluefin tunas in the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean should remain unchanged at 13,400 tonnes.

Research carried out in 2012 showed that Bluefin tuna were, for the first time, showing signs of recovery, though scientists said the evidence was too unclear to be sure.

Mr Arias Cañete, however, has dismissed their caution and insisted: “Recovery is a reality.” He went on to say that Spain "will not accept excuses for this” and will be asking for a 14% increase in the Bluefin catch.

See also: Sustainable alternatives to Bluefin tuna

Relief as Bluefin tuna quota kept within recovery levels

The minister added: "The industry has made a very responsible implementation of the recovery plan for bluefin tuna stock. It has been subjected to sacrifices for many years, but this plan has worked and all scientific studies suggest that the situation is much better. This Government supports and praises the large-scale fishing for bluefin tuna.”

Spain’s demand for bigger catches, with suggestions that they will win backing from Japan at the talks, has infuriated marine conservation campaigners who believe bigger catches will further damage the stock.

While accepting that some of the data suggests Bluefin tuna could cope with a 60 per cent increase in catches and still have a reasonable chance of recovering to healthy levels by 2022, scientists remain adamant that the evidence is too unreliable to take such a chance.

In their 2013 update report they stated: “While the updated fisheries indicators are consistent with the estimation of stock rebuilding, there still remain key uncertainties regarding current and future recruitment levels and the speed and magnitude of the rebuilding of the SSB. The results from the projections thus need to be further confirmed by future data and analyses.”

Conservation groups are anxious that catches should remain at 13,400 tonnes for 2014 rather than put at risk the recovery of a species that until last year had been in long-term decline – Atlantic Bluefin tuna are classed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Atlantic bluefin are treated as having two distinct stocks, the eastern and western on each side of the ocean. Scientists suggest that western catches should not exceed 1,750 tonnes.

Dr Sergi Tudela, at the World Wildlife Fund in Spain, described the minister’s approach as “politics not science” and said: “For us it’s extremely clear. Anyone can download the update report and see the scientists are recommending not to increase the quota.”

Until 2009 ICCAT routinely ignored the scientific advice and set catches at unsustainable levels, and was dubbed the International Conspiracy to Catch All Tunas. More recently, after an international outcry, it has followed the science.

Dr Tudela added: “Disregarding the science would bring ICCAT back to the dark years, when bluefin tuna management by this organization was called a “travesty of management.”

Jamie Gibbon, of the Pew Environment Group’s tuna conservation programme, said illegal fishing has been a significant problem for the eastern Atlantic stock with one study in 2011 showing that the real catch level was 57 per cent higher than the official total allowable catch.

He said that seizures of illegally caught Bluefin tuna have continued in 2013, though the quantities involved are uncertain.

Adriana Fabra, a policy adviser for Pew in Germany, said: “ICCAT isn’t free from illegal fishing and discrepancies between reports and trade data indicates something not right is happening in the ICCAT trade area.

One of the measures the organisation is urging ICCAT to implement is to compel all fishing boats to have unique identification numbers just as all cargo ships already have under the rules of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). Pew also wants an electronic documentation system introduced for landings in tandem with the IMO numbers to help crack down on illegal fishing.


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