From: Reuters
Published June 13, 2008 08:47 AM

EU to ban Med bluefin tuna fishing from next week

EU fisheries regulators have banned trawling from next week for bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean to stop overfishing of a species that is approaching stock collapse, the EU executive said on Friday.

Bluefin tuna is prized by sushi lovers and its numbers have fallen sharply after heavy exploitation by EU countries that hunt for it in these waters -- Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain.

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Last year, their combined national fleets caused the EU to exceed its international catch quota by 25 percent. Scientists say bluefin tuna may die out if fishing is not restricted.

But the incentive to catch bluefin tuna remains strong, particularly in June, the month when around 85 percent of the fish are caught. Since last year, market prices for the delicacy have roughly tripled: in Japan, the major market for bluefin tuna, a single fish can cost up to $100,000.

As of June 16, vessels flying the flags of Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy and Malta will be prohibited from fishing for bluefin tune in either Mediterranean or eastern Atlantic waters. Spain gets a similar ban that will enter into force on June 23.

The bans apply to vessels that use a "purse seine", a type of net that floats the top of a long wall of netting on the surface while its bottom is held weighted under the water.

Using purse seine nets is a common method for catching fish species that gather near the surface, like sardines, mackerel, herring and certain types of tuna.

The European Commission, the EU executive, regulates fishing quotas for member states and also negotiates international fisheries agreements on their behalf.

"The Commission is determined to use all necessary means to prevent a recurrence of the substantial overfishing seen in 2007," it said in a statement.

"Last year, overfishing was largely driven by the industrial purse seine sector of the fleet, which takes more than 70 percent of the total catch," it said.

Commission experts say the EU's fishing capacity is so large and bluefin tuna trawling activity so concentrated in June that the EU quota can be exhausted in just two days of fishing.

(Editing by Stephen Weeks)

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