Scientists, Nations Disagree Over Tuna Catch Limits

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Over the weekend at meetings in Paris, fishing nations decided to leave catch limits for the endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna virtually unchanged. That's despite scientists' concerns that the species is perilously close to collapse.


The Atlantic bluefin tuna is endangered, but nations that harvest the tuna are refusing to catch less. Eleanor Beardsley has this report on an international meeting on tuna, that wrapped up this past weekend in Paris, and fishing nations decided to leave catch limits for the bluefin, virtually unchanged.

BEARDSLEY: It took ten days for environmentalists, fishermen and representatives from the 48 member countries of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or ICCAT, to hammer out a plan for the future of bluefin tuna fishing. When the meeting ended this weekend, ICCAT announced that fishing quotas would be reduced from 13,500 tons to 12,900 tons in 2011. Not only is that reduction insufficient, says Susan Lieberman of the Pew Environment Group, but ICCAT didnt do enough to combat the biggest problem illegal fishing.

Ms. SUSAN LIEBERMAN (Pew Environment Group): France over-fished a couple years ago, so France now has to pay that back. But other countries that have engaged in all these problems with not reporting, etcetera, there are no consequences. Its just not enough to guarantee the future of this incredible fish.

Ms. GEMMA PARKS (World Wildlife Fund): Bluefin tuna are one of the most amazing fish in the sea and I think theyre so undervalued.

BEARDSLEY: Thats Gemma Parks with the World Wildlife Fund.

Ms. PARKS: You know, they can accelerate faster than a Porsche. They grow to sometimes up to 300, 400 kilos. They can live for up to 40 years. Theyre a warm blooded fish, which is very unusual. Theyre highly migratory, you know, they cross the whole Atlantic Ocean.

BEARDSLEY: Parks says over-fishing has nearly depleted bluefin stocks in the Atlantic. The WWF is now working to save the Mediterranean stocks. The organization accused ICCAT of selling out to the short-term commercial interests of Mediterranean fishing nations like France, Italy and Spain.

But fishermen across the Mediterranean say their fleets have already been cut in half and thousands of jobs lost. Almudena Gomez is a representative for the Spanish fishing industry. Gomez says the quotas have been working and bluefin tuna is back on track to reach maximum sustainable yield by 2022.

Ms. ALMUDENA GOMEZ: We dont have to give false alarms with false figures. The stock is recovering. The recovery plan is working quite well.

BEARDSLEY: The red flesh of the bluefin tuna is a sushi delicacy, and one fish can fetch up to $100,000 at Japanese seafood markets. Eighty percent of the Mediterranean catch is exported to Japan. Masameeya Hara is head of the Japanese delegation to ICCAT. He says the Japanese have woken up to the problem.

Mr. MASAMEEYA HARA (ICCAT): Of course, its big news in Japan. Eating too much tuna caused a problem. People are now thinking very seriously about sustainability of resources.

BEARDSLEY: ICCAT scientists say bluefin tuna have a 70 percent chance of recovering by 2022 with the new quotas. But environmentalists say even a 30 percent chance of failure is too high.

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Others agree. Giant retailers like Carrefour and Ikea and this sushi chain in Paris, have signed the World Wildlife Funds Tuna Market Manifesto, pledging not to buy or sell Bluefin tuna until a proper recovery plan is put into place.

Mr. CYRIL MERVAL: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: We want to do our part to save the planet, says sushi shop manager Cyril Merval. We dont serve bluefin tuna anymore, says Merval, and this is exactly why a lot of customers eat here.

For NPR news, Im Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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