With a month to go before the start of the 2007 fishing season for Mediterranean bluefin tuna, WWF is asking the European Union to hold back half its fishing quota or watch the stock collapse.
The quota for this season’s fishery is more than double that recommended by scientists to avoid the high risk of collapse. The global conservation organization is calling on the EU to voluntarily heed scientific advice and hold back 50 per cent of its quotas to help conservation.
In a new briefing, On the Brink: Mediterranean bluefin tuna – the consequences of collapse, WWF shows that the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) — the body charged with managing the fishery — has allowed the quota for 2007 to increase in defiance of its own scientists.
It also warns of the danger of removing a top predator from the ocean with unknown and potentially catastrophic impacts on species lower down the food chain. Declining populations of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean could, for example, lead to a sharp increase in squid, which feed on sardines. A significant decline in sardine populations would put at risk this important Mediterranean fishery.
“The EU can still choose not to be part of this failure, not to be one of the parties responsible for driving tuna to the brink,” says Justin Woolford, Head of WWF’s European Fisheries Campaign.
“Fisheries management in Europe must take a new path. Throwing a lifeline to bluefin tuna is the starting point.”
The EU is responsible for the bulk of the total quota, with France, Spain and Italy taking the majority of the catch. If EU members cut their quota to preserve the stock it would help reduce the threat of collapse and encourage other fishing nations to follow suit.
Pointing to the economic consequences of a collapse, Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean, says, “It is the traditional tuna fishers who will suffer the most direct impact from the stock’s collapse. The large fleets will move on and plunder a different ocean and a different species.”
WWF is also asking wholesalers and retailers to support the call on the EU, and for those companies dealing in Mediterranean bluefin tuna — considered the finest sushi in the world — to take the responsible decision not to purchase from countries that refuse to halve their quotas.
The EU Fisheries Council is meeting on April 16–17. WWF is calling on the Council to halve the quotas it allocates, close the fishery in June to protect the peak spawning month, and stay out of Libyan waters, which are unregulated and offer the last refuge for the breeding fish.
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