According to recent stock assessments, Atlantic bluefin tuna populations are at near-historic lows and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is hindering the recovery of this highly valuable species. Compounding efforts to control IUU is the fact that the bluefin tuna supply chain is long and complicated, and the multiple steps provide the opportunity for fraud and misreporting. Regardless of where or how the fish is caught, a bluefin tuna can change hands many times before it reaches the market.
Each time a bluefin is imported or exported, there is an opportunity for illegally caught tuna to mix with legal catches, for numbers caught to be misreported, and for origin information to be changed. Recognizing the threat that illegal fishing poses for bluefin tuna conservation and management, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) mandated in 2007 that all its members implement a paper-based catch documentation system. The bluefin catch document (BCD) tracks fish as they are caught, transported, farmed, and traded on the world market. Although the paper BCD was a necessary initial step to address the impacts of IUU fishing, issues with the accuracy and timeliness of the data are hampering its usefulness. An electronic system would help solve these problems.
In November 2011, ICCAT member governments agreed to implement and fund an electronic BCD. A pilot program will be conducted in 2012, with full implementation in time for the 2013 fishing season, which begins in May of that year. ICCAT member governments must abide by this timeline and ensure that the long-overdue system is put in place to address the significant underreporting and illegal fishing occurring in the Mediterranean bluefin fishery.