Fisheries scientists meeting this week in Madrid failed to recommend solid, scientifically-based catch limits to countries fishing for Atlantic bluefin tuna, one of the world's most valuable and severely threatened marine species. The scientists sit on the Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (SCRS) of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).
The meeting comes just a month before ICCAT's member countries, including the United States, Japan and the European Union, will meet in Paris to allocate this year's recommended catch limits for Atlantic bluefin tuna. These fish are hunted commercially to supply the lucrative sushi trade, with a single bluefin sometimes selling for more than USD $100,000. Decades of legal and illegal overfishing, irresponsible management, inconsistent monitoring and reporting[i], and a disregard for science have led to an estimated decline in bluefin tuna populations of up to 85 percent since 1970[ii].
“Bluefin tuna fishing nations are providing scientists with out-of-date, incomplete and often unreliable information,” said Remi Parmentier, a Pew Environment Group observer at the meeting. “Because of these glaring gaps in data, scientists are essentially being asked to gaze into a crystal ball and pick a number for bluefin tuna catch limits. It allows fishing countries to assign bluefin tuna catch limits based on unfounded optimism instead of objective science. No species should have to rely on a crystal ball for its survival.”
In 2009, over 85 percent[iii] of ICCAT countries failed to meet requirements to accurately report data in a timely manner. This lack of compliance hampers the work of ICCAT scientists and hinders their ability to assess population status and set credible quotas, putting the future of bluefin tuna – and the fishermen that rely on them – at risk. In March 2010, countries considered banning all international trade in bluefin tuna under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), given ICCAT's complete failure to manage this species. The proposal did not pass, and as a result the onus is on ICCAT countries to protect bluefin tuna at their annual meeting in November.
“ICCAT countries must suspend the bluefin tuna fishery and protect their spawning grounds in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean,” said Brad Smith, director of the Pew Environment Group's Global Tuna Conservation Campaign. “By taking these first two crucial steps at the November meeting in Paris, member countries would show their willingness to put an end to their past failures and to pave the way for a conservation success story that would result in a revived fishery.”