Published in the Ecologist, November 2010. To view the article in its original format, click here.

Campaigners unite in fury over the failure of the latest attempt to curtail overfishing of the critically endangered bluefin tuna species

Environmental groups have slammed the decision made at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) meeting in Paris to reduce annual eastern bluefin tuna catch quotas by a ‘laughable’ four per cent, a reduction which they say will not allow the species to recover from overexploitation.

At talks held last week commission delegates from 48 fishing nations approved a 2011 eastern bluefin fishing quota of 12,900 tonnes – down only 600 tonnes from last year – which will mean previously agreed targets for recovery will be missed.

Scientists’ precautionary recommendations of 6,000 tonnes per year were made but ignored. Researchers predict these new measures have only a 70% chance of enabling the species to recover to healthy population levels.

The decision has attracted fierce criticism from campaign groups who have labelled the meeting a ‘massive failure.’

Bluefin tuna is one of the most overexploited species of fish, and is currently listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List following population declines of 80 per cent in the last forty years.

Green groups say the commission has succumbed to pressure from the fishing industry and questioned their priorities. ‘Greed and mismanagement have taken priority over sustainability and common sense at this ICCAT meeting when it comes to Atlantic bluefin,’ said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of WWF Mediterranean’s Fisheries Programme.

‘After years of observing ICCAT and countless opportunities to do the right thing, it is clear to us that the commission’s interests lie not in the sustainable harvesting of bluefin tuna but in pandering to short-term business interests.’

Greenpeace said the word ‘conservation’ should be removed from ICCAT’s name. ‘Governments here have just agreed to a bluefin fishing plan that scientists conclude has a shocking one-third chance of failing to protect the species,’ said Greenpeace International oceans campaigner Oliver Knowles. ‘The Mediterranean bluefin fishery should have been closed here at this meeting. This is a monumental failure of the way governments are supposed to protect our oceans.’

There was also anger over the commission’s failure to even discuss the possibility of no-fishing areas in bluefin spawning grounds in the Mediterranean which conservationists have been pressing for in a bid to help prevent further population declines.