Failure to act will push bluefin tuna fishery to extinction says IUCN

Monday’s decisions taken by the inter-governmental fishery organization responsible for the conservation of Atlantic tunas will push the North Atlantic Bluefin Tuna closer to commercial extinction.

Tuna ensnared near the mouth of a fish trap

“The fishing quota agreed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, ICCAT, is incredibly shortsighted. It exceeds the recommended fishing level by almost 50 percent. This can only lead to the collapse of the stocks. Rather than working together to save this important fishery, many governments – notably the EU – regrettably chose to divide up a dwindling resource,” said François Simard, IUCN’s Adviser on Fisheries and Maritime Affairs. 

The population of Bluefin Tuna has reached a critically low level, with all scientific advice agreeing on the need for a drastic reduction of fishing levels and a fishing closure during the spawning season to allow the stock to recover.

“However, decisions continue to be corrupted by short-term economics and political lobbying, the result being that the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas continues to miss its mandate to maintain fish populations at levels allowing maximum sustainable catches,” said Simard.

Meeting last week in Marrakech to agree on management measures for tuna in the North Atlantic for 2009 and beyond, ICCAT again chose to ignore its own scientific advisors by setting catch quotas almost 50 percent above those recommended by the scientists.

“Sustainable catches from a recovered population could be much higher than current landings, worth more than 400 million USD even today. This fisheries management failure will mean tough socio-economic consequences for those depending on the species for their livelihoods in addition to cascading ecological effects to the marine ecosystem,” said Simard.

Only one month ago, a majority of governments and NGOs had supported an IUCN resolution at the 4th IUCN World Conservation Congress that called for an immediate interim suspension of the East Atlantic and Mediterranean Bluefin Tuna fisheries. The resolution also called for the establishment of a science-based recovery plan and a drastic reduction in the length of the open season, especially in the crucial months of May and June.

“A moratorium should have been imposed and then lifted only once proper and enforceable recovery plans are in place, when reductions in fleet size and surveillance programs are done, and when science-based evaluations allow for the fishery to resume. The objective is not to close down the fishery, but to make it sustainable. With the new quotas set by ICCAT, we are playing Russian roulette with an important fishery and all the jobs associated with it,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of IUCN’s Global Marine Programme.

This ICCAT decision puts into question the reliance solely on Regional Fisheries Management Organizations – like ICCAT – to manage resources of the high seas global commons. When these organizations fail, the consequences are borne by all.

“Ignoring scientific advice and the findings of its own performance review panel highlights the urgent need for the global community to seriously rethink the governance system for high seas living resources and our oceans,” said Lundin.


Notes to Editors:



François Simard, IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation, Tel: ++34 653 98 46 11
Carl Gustaf Lundin, IUCN HQ, Switzerland Tel: ++41.22-999 00 01; +41 79 477 1400

Media team:
Sarah Horsley, IUCN Media Relations, m +41795283486, e
Carolin Wahnbaeck, IUCN Media Relations, m +4179 858 7593 e
James Oliver, IUCN Global Marine Programme m +41 78 6155857 e

About IUCN
IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges by supporting scientific research; managing field projects all over the world; and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN, international conventions and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice.

The world's oldest and largest global environmental network, IUCN is a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists and experts in some 160 countries. IUCN's work is supported by over 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. IUCN's headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland.








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