New data: Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery plagued with violations again this year

November 10, 2010 13:46

New data seen by WWF and Greenpeace reveal that the 2010 fishing activities for Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea have been as riddled with rule-flouting and traceability shortcomings as ever before. The conservation organisations urge international fisheries regulators meeting next week in Paris to put an end to the depletion of this key species, reports with reference to WWF.

The data, made available to contracting parties of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the fisheries body tasked with managing the species, focus on results of the organisation's new joint international inspection and regional observer schemes. ICCAT observers were present on board industrial purse seine fishing vessels and in tuna fattening farms in the Mediterranean throughout the 2010 fishing season.

Lack of compliance with fishing rules and reporting obligations, and traceability shortcomings, were seen across the industrial purse seine fishery and tuna farming industry throughout the season.

One case, for example, shows how deliberate misreporting enabled a catch of 18 tonnes of bluefin tuna made by a Turkish vessel to entirely escape ICCAT's documentation system. Key information was duplicated on compulsory ICCAT catch and transfer declarations. The skipper of the purse seine vessel also provided false information on the identity of the towing vessel receiving the fish. A formal inspection carried out on the same fishing vessels reports "serious violations" of the ICCAT rules, including lack of authorisation for delivery to towing vessels which transport the fish to farms.

Meanwhile, of 23 observers in Spanish and French purse seine vessels 15 encountered difficulties in estimating the amount of tuna in the cages, in most cases acknowledging this was "simply impossible" and were left having to accept an estimate by the vessel skipper or divers on tugboats. Of the eight who did not report such problems, three were on board vessels that did not make any catch.

In another example of many irregularities, observers have reported cages not being empty before new transfers of bluefin tuna from purse seiners - with farm operators claiming this practice had been found to attract the incoming tunas.

"It's easy to find evidence of fraud by just looking at public documents, which makes one wonder what is not being documented. A handful of governments in Europe, among them France, are backing the short-term profits of a corrupt and dying industry over the survival of a species. All the evidence is pointing to a tragic situation for bluefin tuna stocks and a fishery out of control," said a Greenpeace spokesperson. "The EU's chief fisheries official has insisted that the bluefin tuna fishery needs to be downscaled. But to give bluefin stocks the best chance of recovery, EU governments should go further and close this fishery altogether."

"These are cowboys of the oceans who think they can just plunder a natural resource for their own short-term gain and get away with it - such a free-for-all simply cannot be tolerated," said a WWF spokesperson. "ICCAT must stop this situation of incredible rule-flouting. Under no circumstances must the quota exceed 6,000 tonnes per year - as advised by scientists - and the industrial purse seine fishery and farming must be immediately suspended, before we are talking about just one more marine legend disappearing from our seas."

This fresh data on the table shows there is no improvement in the widespread flouting of rules exposed in the findings of a comprehensive investigation launched last weekend by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) focusing on the fishery between 1998 and 2007. This disturbing panorama of violations is still firmly in place in 2010.

Greenpeace and WWF strongly urge ICCAT member countries, meeting in Paris 17-27 November, to establish a science-based recovery plan for eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna which ensures the recovery of the species - including a drastic cut in the quota and establishing no-fishing zones in spawning areas.

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