Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
THE United States has confirmed that it will continue its support for a proposal to ban all international commercial trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna.
The proposal will be discussed at this month’s meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wildlife Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Doha, Qatar. announced today.
The confirmation came from Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Tom Strickland, who will head the U.S. delegation to the 15th Conference of Parties (CoP15) of the 175-nation treaty. US support was initially announced last October, but left open the possibility that the United States could modify its position if the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) adopted significantly strengthened management and compliance measures during its November 2009 meeting.
“Under the leadership of NOAA, the United States entered the meeting seeking the strongest possible agreement for the conservation of eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna. We recognize that the parties to ICCAT took some unprecedented steps,” said Strickland.
“However, in light of the serious compliance problems that have plagued the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean fishery and the fact that the 2010 quota level adopted by ICCAT is not as low as we believe is needed, the United States continues to have serious concerns about the long-term viability of either the fish or the fishery.”
Current population information for the species shows it meets the biological criteria for listing in Appendix I. In the Atlantic Ocean, bluefin tuna are managed as two separate stocks, an Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, and a Western. The Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean stock of the Atlantic bluefin tuna has declined steeply during the last 10 years. Based on estimated catches, scientists estimated the spawning stock biomass in 2007 to be 78,724 metric tons. This contrasts with the biomass peak of 1955, at 305,136 metric tons. The decline over the 50-year historical period ranging from 1955 to 2007 is estimated at 74.2 percent, the bulk of which (60.9 percent) took place during the last 10 years.
The Western Atlantic spawning stock has declined by 82.4 percent from 49,482 metric tons in 1970 to 8,693 metric tons in 2007. During the past decade, the Western stock has stabilized at a very low population level. Many experts correlate this stabilization to adoption of rigorous science-based catch quotas and other management measures together with effective monitoring and enforcement. Such measures ensured strict compliance with ICCAT’s ruled by the U.S. fleet.
If the bluefin tuna is listed under Appendix I, commercial fishermen in the United States could continue to sell western Atlantic bluefin tuna caught in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) domestically. Fishing in the EEZ is tightly regulated in the United States to ensure that it meets the ICCAT science-based quota. The United States is both a consumer and a net importer of Atlantic bluefin tuna. Strickland indicated that the United States will explore measures to assist fishermen if international trade is restricted.
“We understand the frustration of our U.S. fishermen who have followed the scientific recommendations and regulatory provisions of ICCAT for many years while their counterparts in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean have often overfished and engaged in ineffective management,” Strickland said. “The U.S. government is committed to working with our many international partners to continue to rebuild Atlantic bluefin tuna and ensure sustained
conservation and management of the species into the future.”
The international marine conservation group, Oceana congratulated the US government for its position.
Dr. Michael Hirshfield, senior vice president for North America and chief scientist, said: “Oceana congratulates and fully supports the decision of the United States government to back efforts to ban the international trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna.
“The United States’ support to protect ocean wildlife through trade restrictions is yet another example of the Obama Administration’s efforts to improve ocean conservation.
“Overfishing and the demand of international trade have driven bluefin tuna to the edge of extinction. The bluefin proposal was initiated by Monaco, but support is growing from the countries of the world along with recognition that this is a “last chance” protection for one of the oceans most valuable and vulnerable species.
“The United States is also proposing the inclusion of six shark species and thirty-one coral species in CITES Appendix II.
“By stepping in early to call for effective management measures for sharks and corals at CITES, the United States is helping to ensure that nations and consumers do not create another dire situation like the one facing bluefin tuna,” Dr Hirshfield concluded.