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Serious Loopholes Revealed In ICCAT Tuna Farming Traceability

As ICCAT delegates are discussing the fate of the Atlantic bluefin tuna – one of the most valuable fish in the world – in Cape Town, South Africa, this week WWF highlights in a study the potential to mask unreported catches of fish throughout the fishing and farming process. WWF calls on ICCAT delegates to adopt technical measures this year, closing for once this major loophole in bluefin tuna management.
Most of the bluefin tuna caught in the Mediterranean is fished by industrial purse seine vessels. The fish is transferred alive to transport floating cages then tugged to fattening farms where it remains for typically 6-8 months before it is killed and shipped mostly to Japan.

ICCAT has established a traceability system called the “Bluefin tuna Catch Document” (BCD). Unfortunately traceability is lost when fish is mixed in cages at farms. WWF analyzed the BCDs pertaining to 2012 catches. The results point to high discrepancies between the reported weight of tunas caged in the farms and the reported weight at harvest, far beyond the range of potential growth in the farms.

“This situation clearly points to the fishery still being out of control. This is an additional reason to follow the recommendation from the ICCAT scientific committee this year of not increasing the current quotas. Real catches in this fishery are probably much higher than the legal quotas and the reported catch figures”, said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of the Mediterranean Fisheries Programme at WWF.
Based on official data of weight at catch and at harvest reported under the BCD scheme, the WWF study “Bluefin tuna farming growth rates in the Mediterranean”, has estimated fattening ratios of farmed bluefin tunas in Mediterranean farms. Fattening ratios computed in this analysis ranged from -6 % up to 289 % and 80 % of these fattening ratios were higher than 40 %. According to the scientific literature, fattening ratio values for adult tunas under prevalent conditions in tuna fattening farms in the Mediterranean do not exceed 30-40 %. The data reported, therefore, seem to suggest that most fattening ratios derived from the reported catch and harvested figures in BCDs could not be explained biologically.
These numbers raise particular concerns over the accuracy of the reporting of the fish caught and transferred to the farms and clearly exemplify the magnitude of the problem, which has the potential to mask unreported catches.
“WWF calls on ICCAT to adopt urgently a technical procedure, such as stereoscopical imaging methodologies, that ensures the accurate quantification of fish caught and caged in farms on a routine basis. This is essential to close a major loophole that undermines the overall performance of the current bluefin tuna management system, allowing any potential unreported catches to be easily laundered”, concluded Tudela.