Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Fishery at Risk of Collapse; Campaign Needed to Save Species

Bluefin Tuna On July 5, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released a report documenting the illegal overfishing of bluefin tuna in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. According to the report, the top offenders are fleets from the European Union (mainly France), Libya, and Turkey. Not only are fishers exceeding quotas set by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the main body that oversees tuna stocks in the region, but they are intentionally underreporting their catches to avoid taxes and exploit rapidly declining fisheries, the report says.

ICCAT’s annual bluefin quota of 32,000 tons for East Atlantic and Mediterranean fisheries was exceeded by 40 percent in 2004, with fishers hauling in an estimated 44,948 tons. The catch grew to 45,547 tons in 2005. Factors contributing to the overfishing of bluefin tuna include rapidly rising Asian demand for sushi and sashimi, expansion of the U.S. market for fresh tuna, and the rising use of tuna-spotting airplanes and other highly efficient industrial fishing methods, according to the report.

“The European Commission risks bearing witness to the collapse of this centuries-old fishery,” said Tom Grasso, director of Marine Conservation Policy at WWF. The organization demands an immediate closure of the fishery and is urging ICCAT to reduce tuna fishing to sustainable levels as well as to improve enforcement and reporting.

Brian Halweil, Senior Researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, says additional measures can be taken on the consumer end to save the species. “Policies to extend fisheries closures and improve catch reporting are necessary, but often politically difficult to enforce. Given the popularity of tuna in the world's fish markets—and how lucrative it is to catch—seafood lovers in the U.S., Europe, and Asia will have to help temper their demand for the fish as well. Just as a successful consumer campaign was launched to save dolphin populations by buying dolphin-safe tuna, a campaign is now needed to buy less tuna to ensure the fish is around in the future.”

Halweil also points out that overfishing is a threat to the tuna industry itself. “By targeting the last great spawning refuges for the fish, tuna fleets are accelerating their own demise.”

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.