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Mediterranean bluefin to be functionally extinct by 2012

14/04/2009 12:36:39
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Bluefin tuna. Photo credit WWF.

Mediterranean bluefin tuna stocks collapsing now as fishing season opens

April 2009. As the Mediterranean's bloated fishing fleets ready themselves for the opening of the bluefin tuna fishery, WWF has released an analysis showing that the bluefin breeding population will disappear by 2012 under the current fishing regime.

Global conservation organization WWF reveals that the population of breeding tuna has been declining steeply for the past decade - and will be wiped out completely in 3 years if fisheries managers and decision-makers keep ignoring the warnings from scientists that fishing must stop.

Population collapse
"Mediterranean bluefin tuna is on the slippery slope to collapse, and here is the data to prove it," said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean. "Whichever way you look at it, the Mediterranean bluefin tuna collapse trend is dramatic, it is alarming, and it is happening now. WWF has no choice but to again urge the immediate closure of this fishery."

The population of tunas that are capable of reproducing - fish aged 4 years or over and weighing more than 35kg - is being wiped out. In 2007 the proportion of breeding tuna was only a quarter of the levels of 50 years ago, with most of the decline happening in recent years.

Tuna size down by 50% in 15 years
Meanwhile, the size of mature tunas has more than halved since the 1990s. The average size of tuna caught off the coast of Libya, for example, has dropped from 124kg in 2001 to only 65kg last year. Data gathered by WWF show that this pattern has been observed across the entire Mediterranean.
Before the age of large-scale industrial fishing, individual tunas could even weigh in at 900kg. The loss of these giant tunas - able to produce many more offspring than medium-sized individuals - has a disproportionately high impact on the reproduction of the species.

Purse seine vessel targeting bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea (c) ATRT

Purse seine vessel targeting bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea (c) ATRT

Vast over capacity in fishing fleets
The huge overcapacity of fishing fleets, catches that far exceed legal quotas, pirate fishing, the use of illegal spotting planes to chase the tuna, under-reporting of catch, fishing during the closed season, management measures disregarding scientific advice - and the insatiable appetite of the world's luxury seafood markets - have all contributed to this dramatic decline.

"For years people have been asking when the collapse of this fishery will happen, and now we have the answer," added Dr Tudela. "Mediterranean bluefin tuna is collapsing as we speak and yet the fishery will kick off again tomorrow for business as usual. It is absurd and inexcusable to open a fishing season when stocks of the target species are collapsing."

WWF - Fishery must be closed immediately
WWF is calling for the immediate closure of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery to give the species a chance to recover, while continuing to encourage consumers, retailers, restaurants and chefs to join the global movement to avoid the consumption of the imperilled fish.

There is also growing support to suspend international trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna by getting it listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) when contracting parties meet in early 2010.

Breeding population cut by half in less than 5 years (2002-2007) - Spawners might became virtually extinct by 2012

Source: Data on recent decline of the population (solid blue line) taken from SCRS ICCAT, Bluefin tuna stock assessment, 2008; dashed red line on forecasted trajectory of the population estimated by WWF

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