Pew Environment Group Urges Stronger Action to Save Bluefin Tuna and Sharks, Regrets Failure of International Fisheries Commission

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Pew Environment Group Urges Stronger Action to Save Bluefin Tuna and Sharks, Regrets Failure of International Fisheries Commission

Porto de Galinhas, Brazil — After meeting for ten days, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) refused to end fishing for Atlantic bluefin tuna. Instead, ICCAT set the catch limit for bluefin, considered the most valuable fish in the sea, at 13,500 tonnes. Member countries also agreed on only one measure that will help conserve sharks in the Atlantic, a ban on the retention and landing of big eye threshers, but Mexico was granted an exemption to catch 110 of these vulnerable sharks.

"Since its inception, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas has been driven by short-term commercial fishing interests, not the conservation ethic implied by its name," said Susan Lieberman, Director of International Policy for the Pew Environment Group. "Only a zero catch limit could have maximized the chances that Atlantic bluefin tuna could recover to the point where the fishery could exist in the future.

In October, Monaco submitted a proposal to list bluefin tuna on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, which would effectively ban the international trade of the species. Before ICCAT's annual meeting, the Commission's Standing Committee on Research and Statistics examined the status of bluefin and found that the species did indeed qualify for such a ban.

"When you adjust the new catch limit to account for over-fishing and rampant illegal fishing by some countries and add in ICCAT's poor enforcement and compliance record, the prospects for the recovery of the once-abundant Atlantic bluefin tuna are dismal," added Lieberman.

"ICCAT's lack of action on sharks was also disappointing,' said Matt Rand, coordinator of the Shark Alliance and director of Global Shark Conservation for the Pew Environment Group. "ICCAT took only one small step forward for sharks, but we regret that no other steps were taken to protect many other vulnerable shark species whose populations have declined significantly in recent years. Member countries represented at this meeting also missed a golden opportunity to mandate that all sharks caught in the Atlantic be landed with their fins attached."

Up to 73 million sharks globally are caught and killed annually to support the shark fin trade. In most areas there are no management regimes governing sharks, and with fins commanding up to $300 per pound, fishermen have ample motivation to catch and kill as many sharks as possible.

"We regret that there is no regional fisheries management organization focusing on sharks," added Rand. "Sharks need to be managed sustainably just like any other commercial fishery. Allowing sharks or any other species to collapse from destructive fishing practices is no way to manage the ocean's resources."

"ICCAT's actions and inactions highlight the need to take these issues to CITES -- the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species," concluded Lieberman. "The ICCAT fisheries managers have shown scant interest in the long-term preservation of the key resources they are supposed to manage. It is now time to turn to other bodies to seek the needed protections that ICCAT has failed to provide."

CITES is the global treaty governing international trade in endangered and threatened plants and animals. Its next meeting is in March, 2010, in Doha, Qatar. Pew has announced its support for a proposal by Monaco to list Bluefin tuna as a threatened species at the CITES meeting, which would prohibit international trade of this fish.