From risking collapse then recovery first signs finally seen

Atlantic bluefin tuna (BFT) has been heavily overfished for decades and the victim of widespread overfishing and pirate fishing – especially in its main spawning grounds across the Mediterranean – coupled with the pressure of relentless global trade.

WWF wants to see a sustainably managed and successfully controlled Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery – for the recovery of an amazing fish, a healthy marine ecosystem, and a thriving fishery existing for the next millennium and beyond as it has done for thousands of years. In the long term, this means moderate levels of catch, trade and consumption – with the right number of boats on the water to avoid overfishing, and fishers and governments who respect the science and the rules – thus allowing enough fish to remain in the ocean and ensure healthy reproduction of the species season after season.

After decades of decline and 12 years of intense work, WWF has decisively contributed to getting ICCAT to reach measures including:

– a decrease in quotas from 32,000 t in 2006 to 12,900 t in 2010

– a minimum landing size matching the size at maturity for the species
– an open season for purse seine fleets of just one month a year
– an ICCAT Regional Observer Programme (ROP) 
– a Catch Documentation Scheme (the BCD)
– a fleet capacity reduction plan and a Scheme of Joint International Inspection

For the first time this year it seems that initial signs of recovery have appeared 
(seehttp://mediterranean.panda.org/news/?206472/Bluefin-tuna-encouraging-signs-but-this-is-only-the-start—-efforts-still-needed), but while WWF recognize the positive steps that were made thanks to measures to improve BFT management, we need to follow the scientific advice of ICCAT’s Scientific Committee and maintain pressure on decision makers (governments and industry) to ensure the fishing quota is not going to increase.

WWF asks of ICCAT 2012

Extend the current (2012) management measures, including the fishing quotas (TAC) and fishing seasons, to the period 2013-2015.

Current signs of stock increase are – cautiously – encouraging and show that good management pays even in the apparently most hopeless among fisheries. It’s been a long and huge concerted effort among all stakeholders to reach this point and it’s in the interest of the bluefin fishery, ICCAT and the global fisheries governance system to make the Atlantic bluefin a management success story after being the global icon for overfishing the last decade.  
“ICCAT scientists are clear this year that the fishing quotas must not increase to enable Atlantic bluefin tuna to fully recover sometime within the next decade. WWF calls on ICCAT Contracting Parties to stick to this recommendation”, says Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

Review and strengthen the current fishing capacity reduction plan to bring real catch capacity down to the level of fishing possibilities.

ICCAT first adopted a fleet capacity reduction plan for the BFT in 2008 which was further refined in 2010. The current plan ends in 2013, when it’s assumed to have phased out all fishing overcapacity. However, a recent assessment shows the current plan is based on catch rates per fleet segment which are strongly underestimated resulting in an end situation of still huge overcapacity (worth over 200% the TAC). WWF calls on ICCAT to extend the current capacity reduction plan to the next three-year period using updated, more realistic estimates of potential catch rates so as to ensure overcapacity is fully removed at the end of the period.

“There are still too many boats for too few fish to be sustainably caught”, says Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

Keep fight Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported catches (IUU)
The strong commitment by ICCAT to fight IUU has been one of the main pillars behind the incipient recovery of the stock. Any relaxation on this matter would risk of taking this fishery back to the dark ages and to destroy the achievements of years of productive collective work. 

“Serious investigations on all potential infringements and adequate measures to tackle them are still crucially needed”, says Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

 Provide for the obligation of tuna farms to record size at harvest of all individual fish and to submit the information to ICCAT for stock assessment purposes.

According to ICCAT scientific committee (SCRS), the lack of reliable size data on purse seine catches strongly affect the performance of the current stock assessment as it is a source of large errors and related uncertainties on stock assessment results. WWF calls on ICCAT contracting parties to provide routinely samples for weight and length every fish at harvest and to submit this information along with that on catch date, gear type, flag of catching vessel/trap and area of capture to the SCRS.

“We know that this information is available and it would be a great contribution from the industry to guarantee bluefin tuna stocks in the next decades, thus serving science and research needs”, says Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

Develop new methods leading to a much more reliable stock assessment in 2015.

WWF calls for the maximum support to SCRS to develop a new stock assessment methodology that takes unquantified uncertaintities into account, on time for the next assessment scheduled in 2015.

“We need better science supporting management of Atlantic bluefin tunas stocks”, says Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean.

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