ICCAT decision to raise bluefin quotas draws scrutiny

Published on
November 22, 2017

Conservation groups reacted with outrage after the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) concluded its annual conference, as the member nations decided to increase catch limits on bluefin tuna.

ICCAT’s decision to raise eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin limits to 36,000 tons by 2020 represents a 50 percent increase from current levels. The move prompted fears the species that was threatened due to years of overfishing may face peril yet again, according to Alessandro Buzzi, a WWF fisheries project manager.

"We have been fighting for the last 10 years to save bluefin tuna, we are so near recovery that it is a scandal to see ICCAT going back to business as usual; this could jeopardize all the progress we've made," Buzzi said.

In a statement, the commission said it was following the advice of its scientific committee to grant the “considerable” increase. The limit will be raised gradually over the next three years, with next year’s limit set at 28,200 tons. 

In addition, a tentative agreement on next year’s quota share was reached, with discussions on future years set to take place in March.

“While a larger pie to share should have led to greater possibilities of consensus, the demands by those who already had a quota for a larger slice made negotiations tougher than ever,” the commission said.

Officials with The Pew Charitable Trusts said the decisions made during the conference were among the “poorest” in a long time.

“In the most recent stock assessment, scientists could not confirm the recovery of this already-depleted species, and yet the quotas adopted are predicted to cause further decline,” said Rachel Hopkins, a Pew senior officer for global tuna conservation. “This is an extremely concerning reversal of course for ICCAT, which is actively jeopardizing the future of a valuable and iconic species.”

Paulus Tak, another Pew senior officer, called the bluefin increase, as well as other recommendations it passed, a step backwards.

“We fear these decisions are threatening to further undermine the credibility of the commission,” he said.

More than 630 delegates attended the conference held in Morocco, the home of ICCAT Executive Secretary Driss Meski. He will step down from that position, which he held for 14 years, next year. In addition, the commission elected a new chairman. Panama’s Raul Delgado will replace Ghana’s Martin Tsamenyi, who had held that role for the past two years.

The commission also approved an increase for western Bluefin tuna as well. The catch limit for that stock will be 2,350 tons for each of the next three years, up from 2,000. 

Canadian fishermen will be able harvest 22 percent of that, the CBC reported. But Canada-based Ecology Action Centre said the commission offered little reasoning for that increase. 

“We are astonished that ICCAT parties would raise the quota to a level that will lead to roughly a 7.5 percent population decline over just three years," said Heather Grant, a communications coordinator with the group. "Parties are abandoning their commitment to rebuilding a stock it is has worked for 19 years to save."

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