Tuna stocks sink manage it right or lose it! Published: 23 January, 2007
TUNA are fast disappearing, with important stocks at high risk of commercial extinction due to weak management, warns a WWF briefing ahead of the first meeting of government members of the worlds five tuna management organisations.
Despite efforts by some governments within tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs), populations of important species such as bluefin tuna are critically depleted. Atlantic bluefin, used for high-end sushi and sashimi, is massively overfished and the spawning stock of Southern bluefin tuna in the Indian Ocean is down about 90%.
RFMOs are the main mechanism developed by countries to regulate fishing on the high seas areas beyond national laws where most tuna catches occur. WWFs new briefing, Tuna in Trouble: Major Problems for the Worlds Tuna Fisheries, reveals rampant illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, unsustainable quotas, and far too many boats competing for the remaining tunas.
Sustainable management of the worlds tuna fisheries should be possible, if the will can be found, says Dr Simon Cripps, Director of WWFs Global Marine Programme. But many governments are routinely ignoring scientific advice, failing to implement the available conservation and management measures, turning a blind eye to illegal fishing and not prosecuting those who flout the rules.
The capacity of the worlds tuna fleets are now far greater than required to catch the legal quota. In 2002 in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, the capacity of purse-seine fleets targeting bigeye and yellowfin tuna was 70% higher than needed to catch the quantity advised by scientists.
Disputes about allocation of fishing quotas also tend to have a paralysing impact on RFMOs. In a number of cases, quotas are ignored or simply increased to accommodate new entrants to the fishery.
Tuna RFMOs have, for the most part, failed to minimise the massive incidental catch, known as bycatch, of sharks, marine turtles, seabirds, small whales and dolphins. In 2000, tuna long-line fisheries deployed an estimated 1.2 billion hooks targeting tuna, but killing a range of other species.
WWF applauds the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commissions (IATTC) efforts to reduce the bycatch of marine turtles by encouraging the use of circle hooks. Initial results indicate they can reduce the number of turtles killed in long-line fishing operations by as much as 90%.
Solutions have been developed by a few RFMOs, resulting in a more sustainable approach, adds Cripps.
The talks in Japan provide an opportunity for all interested nations to adopt approaches that ensure good practices to protect tuna, other marine life and the wellbeing of coastal communities.
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