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Endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna formally recommended for international trade ban - Algerian official arrested

17/10/2009 23:45:20

Bluefin tuna. Photo credit WWF.

Last chance for Atlantic bluefin tuna?

October 2009. WWF has welcomed the proposal to ban international trade in endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna submitted by the Principality of Monaco, which recommends a listing of the species on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

That Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks are declining dramatically was confirmed last week by scientists for the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) - the organization responsible for ensuring the sustainable commercial exploitation of this fish - at their annual meeting in Madrid, Spain.

Alarmingly overexploited species
"WWF applauds Monaco for officially proposing a halt to international trade in this endangered and alarmingly overexploited species - an act that would cut the main driver of decline," said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

"Current management regime is a total failure"
"WWF now appeals to all CITES Contracting Parties to vote for the trade ban proposal. The current management regime is a total failure and is inadequate to guarantee the recovery of this iconic species - only a stop to global trade can give bluefin tuna the breather it so desperately needs."

Tuna hunt in the Med. Credit WWF.

Tuna hunt in the Med. Credit WWF.

A CITES Appendix I listing would ban international commercial trade in wild Atlantic bluefin tuna.

In their report the ICCAT scientists highlighted that the fishery had been plagued with serious underreporting and illegal fishing from the 1990s - undermining the conservation of the stock - and that further stock collapse is likely unless fishing mortality rates are substantially reduced in the near future.

Parallel to the CITES trade ban, WWF is calling on ICCAT to suspend fishing of Atlantic bluefin tuna when it meets 6-16 November in Recife, Brazil - with the ultimate goal of a sustainable fishery successfully managed by ICCAT in future.

US demands further measures
Meanwhile, The United States announced that it will seek the strongest possible management for the conservation of Atlantic bluefin tuna. First, they are sending a clear and definitive statement to the international community that the status quo is not acceptable.

70-80% decline in stocks
Over the past 40 years, the international body that manages bluefin tuna, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), has overseen a 72 percent decline in the adult population of the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean stock of bluefin tuna and an 82 percent decline in the adult population of the western Atlantic stock.

General Secretary of Algerian fisheries charged with illegal fishing activities

According to media reports, the General Secretary and the Director of the Algerian Ministry of Fisheries, 5 Turkish and 2 Algerian ship owners, have been charged with illegal fishing activities during the 2009 fishing season, which has involved the capture and laundering of 210 tonnes of Atlantic bluefin tuna.


Blind eye
The accused members of the Algerian Ministry of Fisheries allegedly agreed to turn a blind eye to illegal fishing for bluefin tuna by the Turkish purse seiner Akuadem 2, and even to prevent the routine inspection of the vessel by coast guards, in return for financial compensation.


210 tonnes of tuna on board
The illegal activity, however, was discovered when in early June 2009, coast guards boarded the 3 vessels and the crew was unable to provide any kind of documentation that authorised these vessels to fish for tuna in Algerian waters. They claimed to have purchased all the 210 tonnes of tuna onboard from Algerian vessels, an unrealistic statement given that Algeria currently has only 4 operating bluefin tuna fishing vessels with a fishing capacity much lower than this catch.


The General Secretary and the Director of the Algerian Ministry of Fisheries may now face up to 8 years of prison, while the Turkish and Algerian ship owners may face up to 5 years in prison, a fine of up to 10 times the value of the 210 tonnes of laundered tuna, and the confiscation of their vessels.


A verdict, however, is not likely to be reached for another 2 to 3 months, says the Algerian media.

Click here to read the report in the Algerian Media

In recent years, the countries that fish the eastern stock, which spawns in the Mediterranean, have done so at two to three times the sustainable level, causing a significant and rapid decline in the last decade. The status of the western stock, which spawns in the Gulf of Mexico and is fished primarily off the North American coast, has recently stabilized due to the establishment of well-enforced, science-based quotas.

A sustained lack of science-based management for the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean stock of bluefin tuna, and concerns about slow recovery in the west, have brought us to this point. As a member in ICCAT, the United States calls for strong and definitive action at the November 2009 meeting in Brazil. This includes establishing management measures that end overfishing such as setting responsible science-based quotas, stronger enforcement of these quotas, and closures during spawning periods.

Support for Monaco
Second, the United States strongly supports Monaco's proposal to list Atlantic bluefin tuna under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to prohibit international trade of the species. The United States will consider amending or withdrawing support for the Monaco proposal if ICCAT adopts significantly strengthened management and compliance measures.

Improving international fishery management and ending illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing are high priorities for the United States government, Congress, commercial and recreational fishermen, and conservationists.

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