The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) failed to establish adequate management measures at its meeting in Recife, Brazil this week for commercially valuable bluefin tuna and sharks, whose populations have plummeted over recent decades.
Driven to the verge of collapse by the greed of the international market and decades of mismanagement and illegal fishing, Atlantic bluefin tuna populations are nearing the point of commercial extinction. ICCAT agreed to reduce the fishing quota for eastern bluefin tuna for all Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic fleets from 22,000 tons to 13,500 tons as well as one additional month of fishery closure for purse seiners and a promise to close the fishery if the next scientific stock assessment shows a serious risk of collapse for the species. Bluefin tuna is currently proposed for listing under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Today’s decision increases the likelihood that bluefin tuna could end up in the hands of CITES.
ICCAT’s management of bluefin tuna was recently called an “international disgrace” by an independent review body. “Clearly ICCAT has not learned from its mistakes and is willing to let sharks go the way of the bluefin tuna,” said Elizabeth Griffin, marine scientist at Oceana. In a meeting where proposals to significantly advance shark conservation across the Atlantic were on the table, only one measure was adopted, and only after it was weakened.
The measure prohibits retention and sale of bigeye threshers, one of the most vulnerable and depleted shark species in the Atlantic. It also directs countries to work to ensure that their fishing fleets are not targeting common or pelagic thresher sharks and prohibits retention of these species in recreational fisheries. The one exception being Mexico, which can land 110 bigeye threshers each year.
“ICCAT chose to put financial and political considerations before the health of our ocean’s top predators,” said Max Bello, campaign director for Oceana South America. “ICCAT’s failure to protect threatened shark species is completely unacceptable.”
The U.S., Brazil, and Belize also submitted a proposal to require all sharks to be landed with their fins naturally attached. Landing sharks with their fins naturally attached is the most reliable means of enforcing a finning ban and facilitates improved data collection on shark landings. Although the proposal was supported by the vast majority of Latin American and African nations, the measure failed due to opposition from those including the European Union, China and Japan.
ICCAT also missed an opportunity to protect other key shark species including the porbeagle, which was recently proposed for listing under CITES Appendix II and the shortfin mako, which is one of the most commonly caught sharks in ICCAT fisheries. Shortfin makos are considered “critically endangered” in the Mediterranean by the IUCN and the U.S. government recently determined that they are being overfished in the North Atlantic, yet after years of discussion by ICCAT, no action was taken.
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (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. The ICCAT annual meeting consists of delegates from more than 48 countries fishing in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, discussing the future of large pelagic species such as endangered bluefin tuna, sharks and swordfish.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. All import, export, re-export and introduction from the sea of species covered by the Convention has to be authorized through a licensing system. The species covered by CITES are listed in three Appendices, according to the degree of protection they need. Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction and trade in these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.
For more information about declining populations and solutions, please read Oceana’s ICCAT position papers about bluefin tuna and sharks. To read the environmental group statement about bluefin tuna, please click here.