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EU to blame for diluting bluefin tuna protection plan

A 15-year plan designed to protect stocks of bluefin tuna was watered down so much by the EU that it „sounds the death knell” for the fish in the Mediterranean Sea, according to conservation group WWF.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas agreed yesterday to a quota of 29,500 metric tons of bluefin tuna for 2007, about half the 15,000 tons recommended by the commission scientists. Under pressure from Spain, France and Italy, the EU blocked a proposal by the US, supported by Japan, to reduce the quota to the level supported by scientists. „After two weeks of negotiations, ICCAT decided once again not to follow scientific advice and give in to short-term fisheries interests,” the WWF said in a statement yesterday from Brussels.
„The EU must be held directly responsible for this failure.” Bluefin tuna, one of the world's top big-game fish, is in danger of extinction in the western North Atlantic. Four decades of overfishing and poor enforcement of existing measures aimed at tackling illegal fishing have driven numbers of spawning bluefin to just 3% of 1960 levels. Mireille Thom, spokeswoman for EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg, said the WWF's criticisms ignore significant improvements in other areas of fishing policy. The ICCAT plan also extends the seasons when fishing for bluefin tuna is prohibited, increases the permitted landing size of the fish to 30 kilograms (66 pounds) from 10 kilograms and tightens controls and inspections, she said.

„The quota is only half of the story,” Thom said by telephone from Dubrovnik, where the commission meeting took place. „Focusing on this is taking attention unnecessarily and unjustly from all the measures which were adopted. You have to look at all the measures, you can't cherry-pick.” Scientists predict the plan will lead to a 50% reduction in catches of juvenile tuna as well as a „substantial” cut in catches of adults, the EU says. At the same time, quotas will be gradually scaled back so that by 2010, fishermen will be limited to 25,500 tons a year.
According to ICCAT, which has management authority over all large Atlantic fish including tunas, marlin and swordfish, catches of bluefin in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean have been „seriously under-reported in recent years.” Fishermen, lured by the high value of the fish -- a single bluefin sold for $172,400 at the first auction of 2001 at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market -- consistently ignore laws aimed at limiting catches to help conserve the stocks. The giant bluefin can weigh up to 1,500 pounds, reach 12 feet in length and over short distances, it can swim as fast as a horse can run. It can dive 3,000 feet in a matter of minutes and swim across the Atlantic Ocean in 40 days. Nearly all the bluefin caught in the Mediterranean are exported overseas, notably to Asia, where they are used to make sushi and sashimi. (Bloomberg)