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ICCAT Scientists Recommend No Increase On Bluefin In Western Atlantic

Future catch limits for bluefin tuna fisheries in the western Atlantic Ocean will be negotiated by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) at a meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, commencing November 18. ICCAT scientists have made recommendations that the current limits should be maintained at 1,750 tons within the western Atlantic in order for the depleted population of bluefin to recover.

But some member governments are urging for the scientific advice to be ignored and for the current bluefin fishing quota in the western Atlantic to be increased. Much of the debate is centered on the issue of recruitment, the number of juvenile fish added to the population each year. However, assessments in this area can be complicated by the uncertainty surrounding recruitment and the use of two hypotheses that provide contrasting results.

Under a hypothesis of high recruitment, the number of young fish produced each year rises as the number of adult fish does. Stock assessments using this hypothesis identify that the western Atlantic bluefin population is dramatically overfished. This theory urges for the maintenance of the current quota to allow the recovery of the stocks.

Environmental initiative, Pew Charitable Trusts, says: “The majority of scientific data supports this hypothesis, and it is therefore the scenario used by scientists for most fish populations around the globe.”

Another scenario allows for a modest increase in the current quota with little or no effect on the future population. This comes under the low recruitment hypothesis, where it is commonly found that as the number of adult fish increasing, the number of young fish is capped by environmental conditions. This theory shows that the Atlantic bluefin population is not overfished and not subject to overfishing.

Pew suggests a ‘Road Map to Recovery’ and says: “Most scientific evidence suggests that the bluefin tuna population in the western Atlantic could increase to a much greater size in the future, consistent with the high recruitment hypothesis, if current fishing levels are maintained.”

According to Pew, ICCAT scientists recommend that catch limits should not be increased and that maintaining the current quota would allow the population to grow. Pew believes: “At the annual meeting in Cape Town, ICCAT members should follow the scientific recommendations to cap the total catch at 1,750 tons for 2014 and 2015.”