Bloated Mediterranean tuna fleet in race for the last bluefin | WWF

Bloated Mediterranean tuna fleet in race for the last bluefin

Posted on 12 March 2008
The Mediterranean's tuna fleet needs to shed a third of its vessels to fish within the law, and even more to save bluefin stocks according to scientific advice - but 25 new boats are currently under construction
Rome, Italy – The most comprehensive analysis yet of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fleet shows it conservatively having twice the fishing capacity of current quotas and more than three and a half times the catch levels recommended by scientists to avoid stock collapse.

The fleet is so bloated that just covering its costs implies that a third of its fishing would be illegal, with the worst over-capacity culprits being Turkey, Italy, Croatia, Libya, France and Spain.

The new WWF report, Race for the last bluefin, "uncovers the absurdity of a system long out of control, where hundreds of hi-tech boats are racing to catch a handful of fish,” said Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

“The failure of international fisheries management has allowed a monster to thrive in the Mediterranean. Decision-makers must be bold if the bluefin is to be saved from a sorry fate – and for any chance of a future for Mediterranean tuna fishermen.”

To keep fishing capacity within the 2008 legal catch limits imposed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the Mediterranean fleet would need to shed 229 vessels – almost a third of the current 617-vessel fleet.

Reducing fishing effort to scientifically recommended levels, meanwhile, would require decommissioning  283 vessels, including 58 in European Union Member States.

In Italy – worst culprit among EU countries – the fleet should be reduced by over 30 vessels to respect scientific recommendations, or 17 just to stay within the law. The WWF report indicates that high levels of under-reporting by Italy are also likely, as its reported catches have dramatically decreased since 1997 – yet during the past decade the Italian fleet has increased considerably in size and power. Croatia, Spain and Libya are also under the spotlight for under-reporting.

At a minimum, the report shows Mediterranean fleets would have to fish 42,000 tonnes of tuna just to cover costs – implying some 13,000 tonnes of illegal catch. This calculation considers only the more technically advanced vessels built in the past decade – the full picture will be much worse yet.

“It is crazy – the numerous new fleets are so modern and costly that fishermen are forced to fish illegally just to survive – and worse still they are fishing themselves out of a job,” added Dr Tudela.

WWF is calling on concerned countries to dramatically reduce capacity in this fishery as a matter of urgency ahead of the 2008 fishing season that starts end-April. WWF also urges ICCAT, the body tasked with sustainably managing the fishery, to take a lead in proposing radical solutions. Until the fishery is under control and sustainably managed, WWF continues to advocate a fishing ban – and to applaud responsible retailers, restaurants, chefs and consumer groups who are boycotting Mediterranean bluefin in increasing numbers.

“The fishery is unsustainable in every way – economically, socially, and ecologically. The time to act is now – while there are still bluefin tuna to save in the Mediterranean,” Dr Tudela said.

In spite of the overcapacity of fleets, at least 25 new purse seine vessels were still being constructed at time of going to press.