Ocean News

ICCAT Protects Sharks, Plays Bluefin Roulette

30th November 2010

If by continuing "business as usual" there was a good chance that the source of your livelihood – and a critically endangered species – would disappear, would you change your behaviour? Delegates of the 48-nation International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas decided this past weekend to gamble on the future of Atlantic bluefin tuna, reducing the total allowable catch by just 600 tons, from 13,500 to 12,900. The organisation’s own scientists have warned that continuing to catch Atlantic bluefin at these levels left a 30-40 percent chance that the stock would collapse, but this did not impact delegates’ voting, many of whom have a vested economic interest in the lucrative bluefin industry – a recent report estimated (conservatively) the black market in bluefin alone to have generated $4 billion over the past decade – to allow populations to recover.

This is tragic, to say nothing of the irony that an organisation set up to ostensibly protect bluefin tuna stocks, with the word "conservation" in its name, is taking such irresponsible risks with the rapidly-vanishing animals it has been entrusted with.

Sharks fared better at the meeting. The commission approved a ban on taking whitetip sharks in the whole Atlantic, and limited fishing for endangered hammerhead sharks to coastal fisheries in developing nations, while making their fins illegal to trade.

See the Shark Alliance/European Elasmobranch Association press release for more details on the outcome for sharks. The New York Times Green blog also has a good writeup of the conference, with a focus on its impact on the future of bluefin.