Conservation groups Oceana, Greenpeace and the Blue Ocean Institute called on the United States to push for increased protections for bluefin tuna at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas' (ICCAT) bi-annual meeting next week, November 17 to 24, in Marrakech, Morocco. Specifically, the groups are urging the United States to pursue a complete moratorium on the catch of bluefin tuna throughout the Atlantic basin.
Bluefin tuna populations around the world are facing collapse due to inadequate fisheries management. According to ICCAT, the spawning population of the western Atlantic bluefin tuna has decreased by more than 80 percent in the last four decades. ICCAT is an inter-governmental fishery organization responsible for the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and its adjacent seas.
In a letter to the Secretaries of Commerce, Interior and State, the groups reiterated the necessity for a moratorium and the need to immediately: 1) reduce the current quota for western Atlantic bluefin tuna to 1,500 metric tons; and 2) consider an immediate closure of all known bluefin tuna spawning grounds at least during known spawning periods. These measures are the absolute minimum that must be done if populations are to have any realistic hope of recovering. If strong measures are not established, the groups argue that the species could soon be "red listed" as endangered under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
A decision this week by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in a civil action lawsuit (Case 1:06-cv-01869-HHK), brought by conservation groups against the U.S. government, also reaffirms that strong management action by ICCAT is needed if bluefin tuna populations are to recover. The decision stated that the condition of the western Atlantic bluefin tuna had not improved under previous fisheries management plans and strongly questioned if the species would improve under current domestic management. ICCAT is notably the only body capable of imposing Atlantic-wide restrictions on the catch on bluefin tuna.