As the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) begins in Paris, the Pew Environment Group is urging ICCAT member nations to create spawning ground sanctuaries for Atlantic bluefin tuna, suspend this imperiled fishery, strengthen conservation measures for sharks and stop illegal fishing.
For the past 30 years, ICCAT member countries have failed to act, leading to dramatic declines in the fish populations they manage, including bluefin tuna and most species of sharks. Last week, a hard-hitting report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) revealed that one in three bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea was caught illegally from 1998 to 2007—and that a bluefin-tuna tracking system introduced in 2008 to address the problem is so full of holes that it is rendered all but useless. ICIJ reporters—whose work was funded by Pew, Adessium Foundation and The Waterloo Foundation—found numerous examples of fraud and cheating, including missing data in catch reports and unexplained increases in the amount of fish caught versus the amount delivered to market. Because of these glaring gaps, fisheries managers are left with unreliable information to set annual catch quotas. The results are predictably bad for the fish.
“Until Atlantic bluefin populations begin to rebuild and ICCAT countries can address these reporting problems, the fishery must be suspended,” said Dr. Susan Lieberman, director of International Policy and the ICCAT delegation lead for Pew. “Crystal ball management is no way to ensure the future of one of the most sought-after fish in the ocean. Fishing for severely depleted bluefin tuna in their only known spawning grounds pushes the species even closer to collapse.”
Creating spawning ground sanctuaries in the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, the fish's only known breeding areas, will help rebuild populations and ensure the long-term sustainability of this valuable species.
In addition to effectively managing Atlantic bluefin, ICCAT member countries need to take swift, decisive action to protect sharks. Up to 73 million sharks are killed annually for the international fin trade—and many are incidentally caught in tuna fisheries. ICCAT has a responsibility to adopt concrete, precautionary catch limits to significantly reduce fishing pressure on sharks and should agree to implement precautionary size restrictions to help protect oceanic whitetip sharks.
“It's unacceptable that ICCAT member countries have yet to limit the number of sharks that can be caught on the high seas,” said Matt Rand, director of Global Shark Conservation for Pew. “Sharks have become a highly prized and even desired bycatch because of the price that their fins bring at market. As a result, populations have plummeted.”
Illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing undermines conservation efforts and requires vigilant cooperation among governments. It is a particular problem in many ICCAT-managed fisheries, especially for Atlantic bluefin tuna. The ICIJ report found that the illegal trade in bluefin tuna is valued at more than $4 billion annually.