ICCAT – business as usual or bluefin saviour?


WWF is calling on governments gathering for key talks on the Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna to set an end to rule-bending and impunity for illegal fishing which led to decades of overexploitation and brought the species to the brink of extinction.

Countries which come together in Paris from 17-27 November for the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) are under the spotlight more than ever following further fresh data on illegal fishing and disrespect for rules coming to light in recent days.

WWF is urging ICCAT to put in place an ambitious, science-based management plan that will allow Atlantic bluefin tuna to recover.

Recent data and revelations exposed further infringements during the 2010 bluefin tuna fishing season in the Mediterranean Sea, only compounding the sense of shock at blatant widespread disregard for legally binding management rules. Barriers preventing official ICCAT observers from doing their job have also been exposed.

“ICCAT has long been the laughing stock on the world stage of fisheries management – except the depletion of fragile and finite marine resources, and condemning to ruin of centuries-old traditions and livelihoods, is no joke,” said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

“Adding insult to injury, even the official observers recently put in place have been unable to observe the fishing records and activities. This is a farce that must stop now.”

WWF is advocating a cut in total catch of eastern Atlantic (Mediterranean) bluefin tuna from the current 13,500 tonnes per year to between 0 and 6,000 tonnes – in line with what scientists say will give a high chance of recovery to the species.

In parallel, WWF is encouraging ICCAT members to urgently phase out the destructive industrial purse seine fleets that encircle shoals of spawning tunas, scooping them up in vast purse-like nets. These fleets supply tuna to fattening farms in the Mediterranean – but this entire fishing and farming system is shown to be structurally dysfunctional and entirely untraceable. The farms should also be cut.

Banning fishing in key spawning zones in the Mediterranean is a further measure that WWF says is crucial to giving Atlantic bluefin tuna a break and to allow stocks a chance to bounce back.

In Doha, Qatar, in March 2010, a bid to ban international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna by listing the species on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was fully justified on scientific grounds but rejected for political motives. However, key governments involved in East Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing and trade – Japan, the EU, the U.S., Canada and Norway – pledged at the Doha meeting their commitment to follow scientific advice in putting in place measures to enable the recovery of the species at this Paris ICCAT meeting.

“WWF calls on Japan, with the largest share of consumption, and the EU, responsible for the largest fishing sector, to lead the way in respecting their Doha Commitments and pushing for the establishment of a sustainable, science-based recovery and management plan for eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna – a plan that is also fully policed and enforced, with punishment being carried through if those rules are broken,” said Sergi Tudela. “It is time to raise the game.”

Governments at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, recently committed to sustainably manage global fish resources by 2020 – adding further pressure on this crucial ICCAT meeting starting today.

WWF is also building a coalition of global businesses pledging they will not buy, sell or serve Atlantic bluefin tuna until ICCAT has finally put in place a sustainable management plan for the fishery in the Mediterranean Sea.