A new analysis commissioned by the Pew Environment Group finds that the amount of eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna traded on the global market in 2010 exceeded the official quota by 141 percent. Two years earlier, the amount traded exceeded the quota by 31 percent. These figures do not account for “black market” bluefin missing from official databases.
This analysis highlights the gap between the quota for Atlantic bluefin tuna allowed to be caught in the Mediterranean Sea and the eastern Atlantic Ocean and the amount traded on the international market during the period of 1998-2010.
In 2008, in response to plummeting bluefin tuna populations in the Mediterranean, member governments of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the organization responsible for managing tuna and similar species in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, adopted stronger enforcement and trade measures. These included lower catch limits and a paper-based documentation system designed to more accurately record the amount of bluefin caught and traded. The new analysis clearly shows that despite those efforts, significant problems with illegal and unreported fishing remain.
In light of the findings from the trade analysis, the Pew Environment Group urges ICCAT member governments to take immediate action at their annual meeting in November. Specifically, Pew calls for improving compliance with bluefin tuna catch quotas by ensuring that an electronic documentation system is in place for the 2012 fishing season.
“The paper-based catch documentation of the bluefin trade is rife with fraud and misinformation,” said Lee Crockett, who directs Atlantic bluefin tuna conservation at the Pew Environment Group. “An electronic system would provide more-accurate information that can be easily shared and cross-checked instantly. Such a program should also include a physical bar code for each bluefin, which could be easily administered and not be cost prohibitive. This would allow the fish to be tracked from sea to plate.”
Most bluefin tuna caught in the Mediterranean are destined for “ranches.” Juvenile bluefin that have yet to reproduce are netted and transferred to these pens, where they are fattened for months and sometimes years before being killed and sold on the global market. The electronic catch documentation program would help track the amount of fish in ranches.
“Tuna ranching in the Mediterranean makes it exceedingly difficult to accurately track the number of bluefin caught,” said Roberto Mielgo Bregazzi, a bluefin tuna trade expert who conducted the analysis. “These offshore bluefin tuna fattening ranches are part and parcel of the problem of underreporting and non-reporting of caught fish.”
To view a new interactive graphic that illustrates problems with the global bluefin trade and supply chain, go to www.PewEnvironment.org/Tuna.
To download b-roll, click here.
The next annual ICCAT meeting will take place in Istanbul, Turkey, Nov. 11-19, 2011.
The use of illegal fishing gear, such as driftnets, also troubles the bluefin tuna fishery. Italian fishing vessels in particular continue to flout well-established regulations restricting the use of driftnets. Much of the bluefin caught by these often-illegal nets ends up on the European market and elsewhere because of poor enforcement and falsified or nonexistent catch documents. On Sept. 29 of this year, the European Union announced legal proceedings against Italy for its continued failure to abide by driftnet regulations. The Pew Environment Group is urging ICCAT member countries to take action against noncompliant operators by placing them on ICCAT’s black list, which would subject them to sanctions.
Although the real scale of the illegal fisheries trade is difficult to fully determine, a recent U.S. estimate put the global cost of all illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing at $23 billion. On Sept. 7, 2011, the EU and the United States announced an initiative to work together more closely to combat illegal fishing.