Ocean News

In Paris, Debating the Fate of Bluefin & Sharks

23rd November 2010

An ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) meeting is underway in Paris this week. The major item on the agenda is the future of Atlantic bluefin tuna, which has been overfished and mismanaged to the point where, unless quotas are drastically reduced (and actually enforced – see this exposé on the $4 billion black market in bluefin), stocks may be fished to commercial extinction soon. While the European Commissioner for fisheries, Maria Damanaki, has called for a reduction of catch levels by more than half, this stance has been dismissed by France and other countries with a vested interest in keeping quotas at the current level.

After the unsuccessful attempt to get bluefin listed under CITES Appendix I earlier this year, which would have led to a fishing ban, the ongoing ICCAT meeting is a "last stand" of sorts for the species. Many EU members, including Germany, support a "zero catch" policy, at least for a few years, to allow for bluefin stocks to recover. Even Japan, the target market for most bluefin, is throwing its weight behind measures to preserve the fishery: Mitsubishi, which in addition to making cars controls most bluefin trade in Japan, has issued an uncharacteristically strong statement supporting the establishment of protected bluefin spawning grounds and strict adherence to scientific recommendations.

Another major push at the meeting is being made for measures to curb the overfishing of migratory sharks, which end up as bycatch or are deliberately targeted for their fins. The Shark Alliance (of which we’re a member) and the European Elasmobranch Association are campaigning to prohibit shark finning at sea, forcing sharks to be landed whole and thereby significantly limiting catches. Two species in particular are at major risk: the oceanic whitetip and the porbeagle. Both, like bluefin tuna, lost the battle for protection at CITES this year, and both are classified as "critically endangered" in the Atlantic by the IUCN.

The Paris ICCAT meeting concludes this Saturday. The decisions made may well decide the fate of these iconic animals.