Fishing nations gear up for tuna quota talks

Wednesday, 17 November 2010 00:27 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Countries meet to set catch quotas for bluefin tuna
  • Environmentalists say stocks dangerously low
  • Fishing nations concerned about jobs
  • Poor data leaves doubts over tuna stocks size

PARIS, (Reuters) - Fishing nations will try to thrash out a deal on Atlantic bluefin tuna quotas in 2011 at talks that pit economic interests against those of environmental groups.

Nearly 50 member nations of the Madrid-based International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meet in Paris on Wednesday for 10 days of annual negotiations.

Stocks of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a popular delicacy in Japan that can fetch $100,000 a fish and weigh as much as an average horse, have plunged more than 80 percent since 1970, Western scientists say.

France, Italy and Spain catch most of the Atlantic bluefin tuna consumed on the global market and Japan imports about 80 percent of the haul.

ICCAT countries set a limit for catches this year of 13,500 tonnes, down from 19,950 tonnes in 2009, although environmental groups say the quotas are widely flouted.

Susan Lieberman of the U.S.-based Pew Environmental Group said that Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks were so depleted that trimming back the quota again would simply not be enough. “What we want them to do is suspend this fishery (fishing of bluefin tuna) and get it properly managed before we reopen it,” she said.

However, France says that negotiators has called for a quota of 13,500 tonnes for European fishermen alone.

“Let’s think about bluefin tuna ... but let’s not forget the fishermen, their jobs, (fishing port) economies and all those who have practised this traditional form of fishing for decades and have the right to keep doing so,” French farmand fisheries minister Bruno Le Maire told the French parliament last week.


A bluefin tuna can weigh up to 650 kg (1,433 lb) and can be found in the north Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean, where captured fish are fattened in enclosures.

The International Game Fish Association has called for a commercial fishing ban in the Gulf of Mexico breeding grounds after the BP oil spill earlier this year.

Scientists advising ICCAT acknowledge that it is unclear how many bluefin tuna are left because catch reports are flawed.

“In the past, and possibly in the present as well, there has been widespread under-reporting of catches, particularly in the Mediterranean Sea,” said a scientist on ICCAT’s advisory panel who asked not to be identified.

Conservationists see ICCAT as one of the last hopes for the fish, after the European Union failed in its bid to have the species listed as endangered at a March meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Efforts to protect bluefin tuna suffered at the 175-nation meeting in Doha when dozens of countries rejected a trade ban proposal from Monaco.

Known for its size and speed, the warm-blooded bluefin can accelerate faster than some sports cars to reach top speeds of around 70 km/h (44 mph).