According to environmental groups, an independent review panel of international fisheries experts has branded the management of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery an “international disgrace” in its conclusions, published this week.

The body responsible for the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas is the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). The independent panel was commissioned by this very organisation to review its performance following concerns raised by the international community about the management of tuna fisheries resources.

In a very strong and direct recommendation, the Panel asks for “the suspension of fishing of bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean until countries fully comply with ICCAT’s recommendations on bluefin“. Such a closure is seen by the Panel as “the only way to stop the continuation of what is seen by observers and by other contracting party countries as a travesty in fisheries management“.

The Panel found that the management of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fisheries was “unacceptable and not consistent with the objectives of ICCAT“, such as the objective of guaranteeing that fish populations do not dwindle to unsustainable levels.

In addition to immediate suspension of the fishery, the Panel also recommended the immediate closure of all known bluefin tuna spawning grounds, at least during known spawning periods. This is in line with Greenpeace demands for the closure of the fishery and the creation of no-take marine reserves to protect crucial breeding areas in the Mediterranean Sea. Also needed are minimum size limits to allow the species to breed before being caught, fishing and farming capacities scaled back to sustainable quota levels, and the elimination of pirate fishing.

The Panel attributed the failure of ICCAT management largely due to the lack of implementation of existing regulations by its contracting party countries. However, some problems lie deeper than enforcement of rules. The review drew attention not only to the illegal catch, but also to the fact that the quota set by ICCAT was 29,500 tonnes – almost twice the 15,000 limit recommended by its own scientific committee. As the Panel put it, “it is difficult to describe this as responsible fisheries management and it reflects negatively not only on ICCAT but on all tuna RFMOs“(3).

In November, ICCAT members will review the current bluefin tuna management plan. Pressure groups Greenpeace and the WWF are demanding that they follow the recommendations of the Panel and close the fishery until capacity is decreased, spawning grounds protected and compliance guaranteed.

“Such staggering conclusions from independent experts only reinforce what WWF has been saying for years – this is a fishery grossly out of control, and if the fishery is not closed now pending radical management overhaul, this majestic species may be confined to the history books,” says Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

“Fisheries Ministers are failing to protect single species, let alone marine ecosystems. What kind of management organisation ignores the advice of its own scientists and set quotas that condemn the very species it is responsible for??” asked Sebastian Losada, Greenpeace Spain oceans campaigner. “This report signals that it is time for ICCAT members to take responsibility for the fishery that has brought tuna to near-collapse or be relieved of its management altogether.

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