Libya conflict maroons tuna fleet

Nearly half the fisherman in France’s main port for bluefin tuna fishing will be grounded for the 2011 season after the unrest in Libya caused fishing permits to be axed for their Libyan-owned boats.

Ten of the tuna ships operating in the Mediterranean port of Sete, some 185 km (115 miles) from the city of Toulouse, will be stuck because they are owned by Libyan companies with links to Muammar Gaddafi, who rebels are battling to overthrow.

The conflict led to a delay in Libya confirming its 2011 Atlantic bluefin tuna fishing quota with the Madrid-based International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which decided quotas late last year and awarded permits in mid-April. Libya’s quota was cancelled.

“Because of the war in Libya, around a hundred fisherman from Sete will not go out to sea this year. That’s a hundred families on the breadline,” said Raphael Scannapieco, owner of five tuna ships, three of which are registered in Libya.

“My two French boats will go out but the three others will be stuck at port. The loss in earnings is enormous. There’s no compensation for the fisherman and I’m hardly going to go to court against a country at war,” he told Reuters.

ICCAT member Libya had been due for a quota of 902 tonnes of bluefin tuna — much of it to be fished from the 10 boats now blocked at Sete — out of a total of 12,900 tonnes for the 2011 season, which starts on May 15.

Environmentalists, concerned at rapidly declining bluefin tuna stocks as demand surges from sushi-lovers worldwide, applauded the axing of the quota. “This can only be good news — as long as it’s respected,” said Jacky Bonnemains, spokesman for a local group of activists that works with Greenpeace.

France, Italy and Spain catch most of the Atlantic bluefin consumed in the world and 80 percent of the haul goes to Japan.

Bluefin tuna can weigh 650 kg (1,433 lbs) and are found in the North Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and Mediterranean, where big commercial fisheries fatten captured fish in enclosures.

Port captain Philippe Friboullet in Sete said the authorities would be informed if any of the Libyan-owned boats left port in breach of the lack of fishing permits. (Reporting by Nicolas Fichot; Writing by Catherine Bremer, editing by Paul Casciato)

Source: Reuters