EU agrees plan to save bluefin

European Union (EU) fisheries ministers meeting during November agreed unanimously on a multi-annual stock reconstitution plan for bluefin tuna, the highly-prized yet threatened fish species popularly used for sashimi and sushi.

The reconstitution plan endorsed by the Fisheries Council transposes into Community law the bluefin tuna recovery plan laid out by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) during a 26 November meeting in Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Under the plan, which spans 15 years as of January 2008, member states will be required to put forward annual fishing plans that include quotas for individual vessels. Seasonal restrictions and minimum tuna weight requirements are also part of the plan.

The Commission called the plan “timely and necessary”, and noted that it goes further than the ICCAT provisions since it requires fishing plans to be put forward at the beginning of the season, in addition to the post-season reports required by ICCAT.

EU member states have been warned recently by the Commission for exceeding their quotas.

Environmental groups questioned the likely effectiveness of the plans. WWF has called ICCAT “entirely incompetent” to manage marine resources, and says the measures agreed in Dubrovnik in 2006 represent a “collapse plan” rather than a recovery plan.

Citing severe overfishing and other illegal activity that has driven the species to the brink of extinction in terms of commercial exploitation in open waters, WWF says that the quota levels endorsed by ICCAT will likely lead to the collapse of bluefin fisheries.

Overfishing of the lucrative bluefin tuna – one fish caught in open waters can fetch up to $100,000 in Japanese markets – remains a problem worldwide, as the fish are found in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Due to their migratory nature, overfishing by one nation can also have adverse affects on the bluefin stocks and fishing industries of other nations. Bluefins are also bred in hatcheries and fish farms, but farmed fish are less prized due to their higher fat content.

A US proposal to impose a worldwide temporary moratorium on bluefin fishing in order to allow stocks to recover was strongly supported by Canada but rejected by ICCAT delegates on 19 November.