From: Raf Casert, Associated Press
Published March 29, 2007 12:00 AM

Environmental Group Calls on EU To Halve Catches of Threatened Bluefin Tuna

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The WWF environment group called on the EU Thursday to cut catches of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean by half in an attempt to secure the commercial survival of the species.

Bluefin tuna is a delicacy on sushi and sashimi tables in Japan, and increasingly around the world, and has been heavily fished to meet demand. Over the past 30 years, Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks have dropped by 80 percent and the global tuna export market in 2002 was US$5 billion (euro3.75 billion), according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Scientists have called for catch quotas to be halved but because of commercial pressures nations fishing the Mediterranean have failed to respond. Now, the WWF has issued a plea one month before the Mediterranean catch season starts.

"The EU can still choose not to be part of this failure," said Justin Woolford, the head of WWF European fisheries campaign. "Throwing a lifeline to bluefin tuna is the starting point."

The extinction of bluefin tuna in EU waters could have far-reaching consequences, he said. Tuna is a predator controlling the number of squid and if the chain is broken, squid could multiply to threaten stocks of sardines on which it feeds.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg has acknowledged the problem of tuna stocks in European waters and in February called for better protection for bluefin tuna. He wants to expand the offseason fishing of tuna, reduce tuna sold on the black market, and impose new worldwide cuts in catch quotas as quickly as possible.

The proposal would reduce catch quotas this year for bluefin tuna caught in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean to 29,500 tons from 32,000 officials said.

EU vessels would be allowed to catch 16,800 tons, with the rest distributed between other Mediterranean nations and countries like Japan. Under Borg's plan, even recreational fishers would be reduced to catching just one bluefin per sea trip.

Borg also wants to counter illegal catches by tougher controls. Black market fishing has been a curse for the species. In EU waters, it is estimated that one in three catches goes undeclared, or an additional 18,000 tons.

The overwhelming majority of Atlantic bluefin tuna is caught in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, with a smaller percentage fished in the western Atlantic.

EU Fisheries ministers will take up the issue at a April 16-17 meeting in Luxembourg.

Source: Associated Press

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