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Med Bluefin Quota Remains Unchanged

The 23rd ICCAT annual meeting has closed with the decision to maintain the current annual catch quotas for bluefin tuna in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean. The 13,400 ton catch limit for the region has been kept, complying with the advice given to the Commission from its scientific committee.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) followed scientific recommendations for the first time last year and set the current annual quota of 13,400 tons for bluefin tuna fisheries in the region. This year saw strong pressure from several countries to increase the quota, against scientific advice, but proposals to raise the quotas were disregarded.

Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean, Dr Sergi Tudela said: “WWF congratulates ICCAT member countries for sticking to science again this year regarding bluefin tuna quotas in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean. This is a good sign for the credibility of ICCAT. However, failure to address countries’ failure to comply with rules remains an issue of grave concern.”

Next year is expected to be a crucial year for bluefin tuna, with an update of the scientific assessment in the ICCAT agenda. ICCAT’s scientific committee has warned this year that more resources are necessary from ICCAT Parties to support its work on this matter.

Pew Charitable trusts also supported the following of scientific advice at the close of the meeting. Elizabeth Wilson, who directs the international ocean policy unit at Pew said in a statement: “The future of one of the ocean’s most iconic and valuable fish – the Atlantic bluefin tuna-is brighter today. This decision will help the species stay on the path toward full recovery.”

However, she added: “despite evidence of ongoing and persistent overfishing, ICCAT member governments, for the third time, delayed the mandatory implementation of an electronic system for tracking the catch and trade of bluefin tuna in the Atlantic Ocean.

“There is clear evidence of continued illegal fishing in the eastern Atlantic bluefin fishery, with one study indicating that actual catch exceeded the quota by 57 percent between 2008 and 2011. Delaying the electronic bluefin catch document system for another year leaves loopholes wide open for fraud and illegal fishing. It undermines management efforts and threatens the recovery of this severely depleted species. To guarantee that the new 2015 deadline is met, all ICCAT member governments must make a full-faith effort to test the system during the upcoming year. That includes submitting all the necessary information required to make it fully operational as soon as possible.”

WWF also reported disappointment after a proposal to strengthen the current ban on shark finning by obliging boats to land sharks with fins naturally attached was defeated by radical opposition from Japan, China and Korea.

An important issue raised this year by WWF is the lack of traceability in tuna farms. In a study, “Bluefin tuna farming growth rates in the Mediterranean”, WWF highlights a potential for hiding unreported catches, and asked ICCAT member countries to urgently come up with a technical solution. ICCAT has just adopted a common procedure based on stereoscopic images that are likely to close this important loophole.

“Farming is one of the least controlled areas of the bluefin tuna business, as WWF has been demonstrating for many years. This year alone, in a Mediterranean tuna farm where control authorities used stereoscopic images, as much as 550 tons of live tunas were found to have been unreported. This figure is higher than the national quota of many ICCAT nations and shows a very worrying situation,” says Dr Tudela.