Threatened bluefin tuna may not get much help from international conference

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Rejecting the tough stance of its top fisheries official, the European Union agreed Thursday to recommend similar catch limits as last year for the depleted stocks of Eastern Atlantic Bluefin Tuna.

The public position of the EU’s 27 countries – led by its three biggest fishing nations Spain, France and Italy – is still ambiguous. The EU statement says it will recommend that the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) “follow scientific advice” in setting the quota – but that could mean maintaining the status quo. The EU countries as a whole are but one member of ICCAT, which also includes 47 nations. ICCAT is meeting in Paris through Nov. 27 to decide the future of the Atlantic bluefin fishery.

News reports cite EU sources saying the commission will push for a quota somewhat similar to the current global limit of 13,500 tons (the upper limit scientists say that would give bluefin a 60 percent chance to recover from overfishing). European Commissioner Maria Damanaki, the EU’s top fisheries official, had recommended that the EU push ICCAT to cut the quota by more than half next season.

Damanaki issued a statement Wednesday saying that EU officials had ultimately chosen not to support her recommendation, but said she was nevertheless committed to negotiating on behalf of the European Union. 

 
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists recently published a 7-month investigation that revealed a $4 billion black market in Atlantic bluefin tuna, facilitated by widespread fraud and lack of official oversight.  
 
Damanaki had seemingly taken a harder-line approach to catch limits during an interview with ICIJ at her office in Brussels last month. 
 
“I’m looking forward to going to the ICCAT conference, and there we’ll decide about the future,” Damanaki said. “This year I have tried a lot. I’m not satisfied with the results, but now I know the difficulties.” Damanakai has said she would “stick to scientific advice."
 
This October, ICCAT’s scientists recommended a spectrum of catch limit of somewhere between zero and the current 13,500 tons. Due to years of overfishing, fraud and lack of official oversight the population of spawning bluefin has dipped 75 percent from historic highs.  
 
“Last year, I was not sure about compliance, so I closed the [EU’s portion of the] fishery early,” Damanaki explained. “And I must confess to you this was not an easy situation for me. Member states would like this power in their hands.”
 
Despite the historic depletion of the stocks that has resulted from both fraud and failed management, Damanki spoke confidently at the time of fighting to limit the quota in spite of pressure from ministers in the EU fishing nations of Spain, France and Italy.
 
“Bluefin tuna will survive. We’re here for it,” she said. “The European Commission is going to take care of the stock.”
 
Thursday’s developments, however, cast doubt on that sunny outlook. 

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