Japan is overwhelmingly the world's largest market for bluefin tuna, photo: Stewart Butterfield/Creative Commons
Nearly two years ago to the day I wrote the headline New Bluefin Tuna Quota Levels Are A "Mockery of Science" and today the exact same thing still holds true: The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna met for 11 days in Paris and, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that bluefin tuna in the Atlantic are critically endangered and several nations supporting an outright ban on trade in the fish by CITES (the US being one), quota levels were cut just 4% for 2011. As Greenpeace's Oliver Knowles says (The Guardian), "the word 'conservation' should be removed from ICCAT's name." Next year ICCAT has set the quota for Atlantic bluefin at 12,900 tons--which if 2011 is like past years will likely be greatly exceeded due to rampant illegal fishing. A few weeks ago we learned, despite greater efforts at reining in poaching of bluefin in the Mediterranean, the bluefin black market is a multi-billion enterprise. Furthermore, due its large stockpiles of frozen bluefin (35-40% of available stock), Mitsubishi stands to make billions once bluefin go extinct.
Earlier this autumn there were indications that the EU would support substantial cuts in bluefin tuna quotas, but under pressure from fishermen these plans were abandoned.
I don't want to belabor the point, but this is yet another perfect example of people prioritizing present needs (or perceived present needs) over preserving the long term sustainability of those needs being met. While Atlantic bluefin well may be extinct by 2012 at current fishing rates, a temporary ban on fishing could allow them to recover sufficiently so that in the future fishing could resume at sustainable rates. It's frankly delusional thinking.
Dr Sergi Tudela, head of WWF Mediterranean's Fisheries Programme, sums up the situation perfectly:
Greed and mismanagement have taken priority over sustainability and common sense at this ICCAT meeting when it comes to Atlantic bluefin. After years of observing ICCAT and countless opportunities to do the right thing, it is clear to us that the commission's interests lie not in the sustainable harvesting of bluefin tuna, but in pandering to short-term business interests. There have been no effective measures implemented here to deal with widespread illegal and unreported fishing for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean. ICCAT members are willfully blind to the fact that failing to reduce fishing quotas to precautionary levels recommended by science will logically result in the lack of recovery of the species.
Prior to the Paris meeting, WWF and other conservation groups called for quotas to be cut back to 0-6,000 tons per year.
More background info on bluefin: Meet the amazing Atlantic bluefin tuna
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More on Bluefin Tuna:
Mitsubishi Hopes to Profit From Bluefin Tuna Decline
Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Will Be Gone By 2012 At Current Fishing Rates
One-Fifth Of Juvenile Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Killed by BP Oil Spill
New Bluefin Tuna Quota Levels Are A "Mockery of Science"