European Parliament, September 13, 2006
MEMBERS OF EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT DISCUSS HOW TO SAVE BLUEFIN TUNA
[Rachel's introduction: Approximately 50,000 tons of tuna are caught every year, while about 25,000 tons would be sustainable. All participants in the hearing agreed that a crisis was looming, and that urgent action was required. Even absent exact data, "the precautionary principle commands us to act," said a European Commission representative.]
With bluefin tuna stocks falling in the Mediterranean, fishermen and environmentalists are worried about the future of the species. A public hearing by the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament (EP) heard from scientific experts, environmental activists and industry representatives about the situation in the region. All parties agreed that urgent action was needed to stop illegal overfishing and to find a way to return to sustainable levels of exploitation.
The EP's Fisheries Committee held a public hearing today about the current situation of bluefin tuna. This species lives on the two coasts of the Atlantic, and has been traditionally exploited by European fishermen. According to scientific experts present at the hearing, France, Italy and Spain together make up 50% of world-wide bluefin tuna catches, while around 80% of the Eastern Atlantic stock is caught in the Mediterranean. Yet now the bluefin tuna is in danger.
The plight of bluefin tuna
In the past decade, the species has become a "high-value product due to international Japanese demand" for sushi, according to Jean-Marc Fromentin, an expert at the French institute for exploitation of the sea (IFREMER). This has led to new technologies and fishing methods in the Mediterranean, most prominently the practice of 'fattening' or 'fish farming'. This involves catching live fish at sea and rearing the animals for several months in floating cages. Not only does this increase their body weight (and therefore worth) but it also allows for fresh catches anytime of the year, ending the limitation of catches to the three-month fishing season.
Marta Crespo, from the Almadraba Fish Producers' Organisation, explained that the more efficient farming methods cause bluefin tuna prices to drop, leading fishermen to increase catches to make a living, creating a "vicious cycle". The result is that "approximately 50,000 tons of tuna are caught every year, while about 25,000 tons would be sustainable," according to Enrique Rodriguez Marin, an expert at the Spanish Oceanographic Institute (IEO). This also leads to fraudulent underreporting, and other illegal fishing activities, which were enumerated by Sergi Tudela, from the Spanish branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
All participants of the hearing agreed that a crisis was looming, and that urgent action was required. Even absent exact data, "the precautionary principle commands us to act," intoned a European Commission representative. "We have the technology, what we need is political will," added Ferran Bel, from the Spanish trap-net fishermen's association.
Speakers and MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) had various suggestions on how to address the problem of dwindling bluefin tuna stocks. Antonio Roldan, the mayor of Conil de la Frontera (Spain) argued for raising the minimum size limits of catches to 30kg. Ms. Crespo advocated introducing age limits of catches, in addition to size requirements. Struan Stevenson (EPP-ED, UK) called for closed spawning areas, whereas Mr. Rodriguez said that fishing effort must be limited. Elspeth Attwooll (ALDE, UK) asked about the creation of a Mediterranean Regional Advisory Council (RAC) to negotiate limits, and Heinz Kindermann (PES, DE) suggested raising fines for infractions.
The parties disagreed over many of the measures, because various options would affect different types of vessels in diverse ways. Inaction, however, was ruled out. "The overcapacity of fishing is the problem," stated the Commission, and "a restructuration is inevitable".
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