Tuna is at risk of extinction following ICCAT's decision to ignore advice from its own scientists, say conservation groups.
A decision by an international organization charged with protecting tuna has been slammed by conservation groups for doing the exact opposite.
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), a fishery organization responsible for the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species, recently implemented a catch quota as much as 60% higher than its own scientists had recommended.
ICCAT’s own scientists had recommended a total allowable catch (TAC) of 8,500 to 15,000 tonnes per year. ICCAT ignored this advice and opted for a TAC of 22,000 for 2009.
The catch quota essentially places a restriction on how much the tuna industry is allowed to catch. Without a strict quota, tuna, known for fetching high prices, would almost certainly become extinct.
Obviously, the extinction of tuna would lead to the collapse of the tuna industry so, any ICCAT decision has a direct impact on the future of tuna fisheries, as well as the survival of the species itself.
Greenpeace says ICCAT has lived up to it’s reputation as an “international disgrace” and has labelled the decision as “Shameless. Disastrous.”
It says that this year’s annual meeting in Marrakech “looked more like a bazaar, in which buyers haggled over the last remaining tuna, than an international meeting”.
Greenpeace blames the decision on the European Union.
The European Union, representing the majority of Mediterranean countries with interests in the bluefin tuna fishery, bullied other parties in the meeting into agreeing to management proposals which completely fail to follow the advice of ICCAT’s own scientific body to substantially reduce fishing and protect the species’ spawning grounds.
“The game is over – ICCAT has missed its last chance to save the bluefin tuna from stock collapse,” said Sebastian Losada, Greenpeace Spain Oceans Campaigner, who attended the Marrakech meeting. “Bluefin tuna has become an endangered species because of ICCAT mismanagement. It’s time to take the fishery out of their hands and look to Conventions like CITES to impose trade restrictions on the species.”
“These past seven days have demonstrated that ICCAT is a farce,” Losada concluded.
Further, Greenpeace has demanded a closure of the fishery until a proper recovery plan is in place. In particular, Greenpeace wants to see:
- a Total Allowed Catch (TAC) in line with the scientific advice
- a seasonal closure covering the months of May, June and July
- the establishment of marine reserves to protect the bluefin tuna spawning grounds
WWF has labelled the decision “a disgrace”.
“This is not a decision, it is a disgrace which leaves WWF little choice but to look elsewhere to save this fishery from itself,” said Dr Sergi Tudela, head of WWF Mediterranean’s fisheries programme.
“Any alternative is preferable to an organization which boasts of its respect for science but where in a decade catches have gone from twice to four times the scientific recommendations, with massive legal and illegal overfishing. It is clear that the only thing to slow the fishery with ICCAT at the helm is running out of fish.”
As with Greenpeace, WWF has been pushing for a suspension in the tuna fishery. This option has also been endorsed by the recent World Conservation Congress and recommended by ICCAT’s own internal high-level review.
WWF has also been pushing for more protection of bluefin tuna.
“WWF will also actively push for a listing under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in the hope that stringent trade controls tied explicitly to the survival of the species will turn around the half-hearted attempt at fisheries management shown here by ICCAT and especially its European contingent.” says Dr Tudela.
An Ongoing Problem
This is not the first time ICCAT has ignored advice from its own scientists.
In 2006, ICCAT set a TAC of 29,500 tonnes, despite its own scientists recommending a sustainable limit of 15,000 tonnes. Since then, ICCAT’s scientists estimate that actual tuna catches in 2007 were 61,000 tonnes.
Following the concerns of the international community, ICCAT appointed a panel to conduct an independent review of ICCAT [PDF document].
The panel had the following to say about ICCAT’s performance:
- Fundamentally ICCAT’s performance to date does not meet its objectives for several of the species under its purview.
- ICCAT’s failure to meet its objectives is due in large part to the lack of compliance by many of its CPCs.
- CPCs have consistently failed to provide timely and accurate data and to implement monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) arrangements on nationals and national companies.
- The judgement of the international community will be based largely on how ICCAT manages fisheries on bluefin tuna (BFT). ICCAT CPCs’ performance in managing fisheries on bluefin tuna particularly in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea is widely regarded as an international disgrace and the international community which has entrusted the management of this iconic species to ICCAT deserve better performance from ICCAT than it has received to date.
- There are concerns about transparency within ICCAT both in decision making and in resource allocation.
- Most of the problems and challenges ICCAT faces would be simple to fix if CPCs developed the political will to fully implement and adhere to the letter and spirit of the rules and recommendations of ICCAT.
The review found that ICCAT has failed to meet its objectives, but blames this on its members (CPCs).
A simple reading of the state of the stocks under ICCAT’s purview would suggest that ICCAT has failed in its mandate as a number of these key fish stocks are well below MSY. However, the Panel is of the view that rather than ICCAT failing in its mandate it is ICCAT that has been failed by its members (CPCs).
The review concluded that the members’ attitudes need to change.
…the problems of ICCAT would be readily fixed or considerably improved if CPCs changed their attitude towards implementation of and adherence to the rules and recommendations of ICCAT and the adoption of robust Monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) processes.