Close it or lose it - Bluefin tuna catches 40 per cent above quota, warns WWF | WWF

Close it or lose it - Bluefin tuna catches 40 per cent above quota, warns WWF

Posted on 05 July 2006
Bluefin tuna, Tsujiki fish market, Tokyo, Japan.
Bluefin tuna, Tsujiki fish market, Tokyo, Japan.
© WWF / Michael SUTTON

Brussels, Belgium / Gland, Switzerland - Bluefin tuna stocks in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean are being stripped bare by illegal and unscrupulous fishing, including by fishing fleets subsidised by the European Union, warns a new WWF report. The global conservation organisation demands an immediate closure of the fishery.

The independent study commissioned by WWF reveals for the first time the full extent of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing for bluefin tuna. It shows that the annual fishing quota of 32,000 tonnes, set by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (where the EU plays a major role) was smashed by more than 40 per cent in 2004 with a catch of 44,948 tonnes, rising to 45,547 in 2005. However, real catches are likely to amount to well over 50,000 tonnes - a figure confirmed by the ICCAT scientific committee.

Fleets from the EU (mainly France), Libya and Turkey are the main offenders. These countries are greatly exceeding their fishing quotas and deliberately failing to report much of their massive catches - thereby also avoiding paying taxes and bypassing sensible management.

Over the last ten years, most the EU’s bluefin tuna fleet fishing in the Mediterranean was modernised or rebuilt thanks to public funds. To receive these EU subsidies, countries must export or scrap old vessels. However, in the case of the French fleet, ten vessels were exported to Libya, where they continue exploiting the same bluefin tuna stock under effective French control, skirting management measures and adding to the pressure on the stocks.

“The European Commission risks bearing witness to the collapse of this centuries-old fishery,” said Dr Simon Cripps, Director of WWF’s Global Marine Programme.

“We urge EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg to show leadership and call for an immediate total closure of the fishery, and request that he supports strong management measures at this November’s ICCAT meeting that guarantee a future for the fishery.”

The report also reveals deliberate misreporting and laundering of bluefin tuna catches. In some cases, a mismatch between official declarations to Eurostat database and to ICCAT was found. Unreported tuna catches are increasingly slaughtered and processed at sea before being shipped out on board enormous vessels destined for the lucrative Japanese market.

“Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks risk imminent commercial collapse,” said report author, Roberto Mielgo Bregazzi, CEO of Advanced Tuna Ranching Technologies.

“In the race to catch shrinking tuna stocks, industrial fleets are switching from traditional fishing grounds to the last breeding refuges in the eastern Mediterranean and Libyan waters.”

In addition to calling for an immediate closure of the fishery, WWF urges ICCAT members to adopt a sustainable recovery plan for Atlantic bluefin tuna which must include a dramatic reduction in tuna fishing and farming capacity, improved enforcement and reporting. If ICCAT fails to do this WWF will mobilise traders and consumers in the major markets of Japan and the US to stop buying bluefin tuna from this fishery.

Notes to the editors:
• On Wednesday 5 July the report will be presented to EU Commissioner Joe Borg, responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, at a meeting with environmental NGOs to discuss illegal fishing amongst other issues.
• The study commissioned by WWF, The plunder of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and East Atlantic in 2004 and 2005 - Uncovering the real story, is conducted for WWF by independent consultancy Advanced Tuna Ranching Technologies (ATRT SL ©®™).
• The information in the report result from official customs data on external trade and from data related to traffic of specialised bluefin tuna containers out of the Mediterranean. While such figures entail a minimum illegal overquota catch of 40 per cent, accounting for bluefin tuna harvested for Spanish, French and Italian internal markets would point to total catches in excess of 50,000 tonnes.
• Photographs and TV footage are available to accompany this press release.
• Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) are the main mechanism developed by States to regulate fishing on the high seas - areas beyond national laws. Currently, there are 42 contracting parties to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). For a full listing visit: ttp://

For further information:
Carol Phua
Fisheries Policy Officer
WWF European Policy Office
Tel: +32 2 7400928

Claudia Delpero
Communications Manager
WWF European Policy Office
Tel: +32-2-7400925
Mobile: +32 497 406381

Bluefin tuna, Tsujiki fish market, Tokyo, Japan.
Bluefin tuna, Tsujiki fish market, Tokyo, Japan.
© WWF / Michael SUTTON Enlarge