Tuna tussle: How much fishing is too much?
Countries worldwide are preparing to set fishing quotas for the Atlantic bluefin tuna, which conservation group WWF says is 'on the brink of extinction.'
Wed, Nov 17 2010 at 5:53 AM
CONTROVERSY: Opposition to a quota was spearheaded by Japan, which buys 80 percent of the annual Atlantic bluefin catch. Top-grade sushi with tuna can go for as much as $24 a piece in high-end Tokyo restaurants. (Photo: David Guttenfelder/AP)
It's succulent and sought-after, a prized fish with a steep price: A single bite of Atlantic bluefin tuna can sell for more than $20 in Tokyo sushi restaurants.
But that demand has led to overfishing, and environmentalists say the world has an opportunity to save the species at a meeting that started Wednesday in Paris.
Representatives from 48 countries worldwide are preparing to set fishing quotas for the Atlantic bluefin, which swims waters from the Gulf of Mexico to the Mediterranean and which conservation group WWF says is "on the brink of extinction."
Environmentalists are pressing for dramatic cuts to the current annual quota of 13,500 metric tons internationally, and some are even demanding a suspension of bluefin fishing entirely at the meeting, which wraps up Nov. 27.
Conservationists say fraud and underreporting are rampant in the industry, that the current tracking system is full of holes, and that scientists don't have decent enough data to make an informed recommendation about what the quota should be.
The bluefin is the "poster child for mismanagement," Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group, told The Associated Press.
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or ICCAT, the body that regulates bluefin fishing and is meeting in Paris, has been largely to blame, she said.
"The species, throughout their management, really since the 1960s, continues to plummet," said Lieberman, who is sitting in on the Paris meetings and wants Atlantic bluefin fishing suspended entirely for now.
Sergi Tudela, who heads the fisheries program for WWF Mediterranean, called ICCAT the "laughing stock on the world stage of fisheries management."
ICCAT's chairman, Fabio Hazin, says the commission emerged several years ago from what he calls its "dark ages" — when it would ignore scientists' recommendations as it set fishing quotas. He said this time ICCAT will follow advice from its scientific committee, which suggested a quota of anywhere from 0 to 13,500 metric tons.
"The commission might prefer some more precautionary levels, let's say 10,000 tons for example, to allow for possible catches that might not be declared," he told The AP, adding that even a suspension of fishing was possible.
"What's going to be the prevailing position, it's impossible to say," Hazin said.
France, which is hosting the meeting and which has a large fishing industry, wants to see the status quo prevail. The issue is sensitive, and the European Union has not yet announced a common position for the meeting, where officials will also discuss other ways beyond quotas to manage and conserve the species.
ICCAT is under extra pressure on the problem following an international fight about whether to ban all trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Member countries of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, rejected a proposal to do so at a meeting in Qatar in March.
Opposition to the idea was spearheaded by Japan, which buys nearly 80 percent of the annual Atlantic bluefin catch. Top-grade sushi with fatty bluefin can go for as much as $24 a piece in high-end Tokyo restaurants.
"We're not saying it isn't tasty," Lieberman said. "But too many people are eating it into extinction."
Copyright 2010 AP News
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