From: Raf Casert, Associated Press
Published November 28, 2006 12:00 AM

EU Pushes Through Tuna Catch Quota Cuts

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Union forced through reductions in catch quotas for the threatened bluefin tuna, which produces one of the finest and most expensive fish dishes in the world, but was criticized for not backing bigger cuts, officials said Monday.


The fish has been a staple for Mediterranean communities since ancient time and scientists have said that cuts would have to be much more drastic to assure the commercial survival of the species.


The 42-member delegation meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas agreed on Sunday to cut catches in the east Atlantic and Mediterranean from 32,000 tons now to 25,500 tons in 2010.


"These measures are essential," said EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg. "The decisive measures agreed by ICCAT represent a realistic chance for the gradual recovery of bluefin tuna."


He said the protection of the species had to be weighed against the economic interests of the coastal nations of Europe and North Africa. Scientists had called for cuts of up to 15,000 tons.


The 25-nation EU fended off challenges from other member nations, including the United States, for much deeper cuts. The EU itself admitted the situation was far from ideal but said it needed to take the plight of fishing communities into account.


"According to scientists, the current amount of catches is over three times the level that would provide optimum return in a sustainable way," an EU statement said.


After the bluefin was part of the Mediterranean diet for centuries, the dark red meat is now craved for the finest, fattiest -- and costliest -- sushi and sashimi from the markets in Tokyo to the hip restaurants in The Hague, the Netherlands.


The WWF environmental group said such economic considerations had to come second to the protection of a woefully overhunted species.


The small cuts in quotas and other measures "gives the green light to overexploitation of bluefin tuna. This is a plan for the collapse, not the recovery of the stock," said WWF European Policy Office director Tony Long.


Apart from the insufficient cuts, the WWF also complained about the decision to allow fishing during the key spawning season in June.


Bluefin tuna and cod are two key species which highlight how Europe's seas have been overfished, leading to a collapse in shocks and upsetting the biological balance of the oceans. Cod catches too have to be ever more limited every year.


The European Union will meet again on Dec. 19 to see how drastic new cod catches have to be reduced in the Atlantic waters to secure survival of the stocks.


Both species have also been decimated by the illegal fishing when catches are not declared and not taken into statistical account.


"Fleet overcapacity and lack of proper enforcement have been identified as the main factors. This trend means that the bluefin tuna stock is now at high risk of collapse," the EU statement said.


Source: Associated Press


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