Meeting in Paris, countries agree on token reduction in 2011 catch limits for threatened bluefin tuna.
Delegates from 48 fishing countries failed Saturday to take aggressive steps to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna populations either in the Gulf of Mexico or the Mediterranean, maintaining the 2011 catch of endangered Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna at essentially the same level as in 2010.
Assembling in Paris this week for the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), delegates voted for an extremely modest reduction in the total allowable bluefin catch next year to 12,900 tons from 13,500 tons. Conservation groups, ICCAT scientists, the United States and the European Union had been pushing for a much more aggressive quota of 6,000 metric tons to enable recovery of the threatened fish stocks.
The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that while the agreed upon quota should support “some improvement in the eastern and western stocks," the U.S. was “disappointed” by the size of the quota reductions and that ICCAT “didn’t take the precautionary steps necessary to accelerate stock growth," The New York Times reports.
Conservation groups were similarly disappointed with the plan — a plan that ICCAT scientists themselves only gave the bluefin a 70 percent chance of recovery. "The pursuit of short-term profit has won out over the need to protect a species, and our oceans, for the future," writes Greenpeace's Oliver Knowles, head of the group's ICCAT delegation. "This is hardly surprising given the number of fishing industry representatives and fishermen who have turned up here in Paris to lobby for continued fishing."
In the Mediterranean, where bluefin tuna poaching runs rampant, the legal catch limits for bluefin tuna arguably has a negligible impact on the total amount of fish caught. A recent report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a project of the Center for Public Integrity, found that the massive black market for bluefin tuna is driving the overfishing. "At its peak, between 1998 and 2007, more than one in three bluefin was caught illegally, creating an off-the-books trade conservatively valued at $4 billion," the report states.
In the Gulf of Mexico, the only other spawning ground for Atlantic bluefin tuna, the problem is not the socioeconomically-entrenched poaching that plagues the Mediterranean, the problem is the ecological impact of the BP oil spill on the threatened bluefin populations. Scientists estimate that 20 percent of juvenile Atlantic bluefin tuna were killed by the oil spill.
"Bluefin tuna will be wiped out unless drastic action is taken to stop overfishing at the world summit going on right now," warned the international environmental organization Avaaz, which collected over three hundred thousand signatures in support of bluefin protection and submitted them to ICCAT negotiators this week in Paris.
"Without these magnificent fish, oceanic ecosystems could collapse," Avaaz says.
It is not clear at this time which countries held up passage of the more aggressive quota since ICCAT deliberations and voting are closed to the media.
Photo: Stewart at flickr