Monday, November 26, 2012

Rant: Bluefin Tuna Stocks Recovering?

No one denies the exquisite flavor of Bluefin tuna sushi, from simply maguro to the fatty otoro. Though it is not a traditional type of sushi in Japan, it has become almost an obsession in that country and it is estimated that Japan consumes as much as 80% of the world's supply of Bluefin tuna. The problem though is that stocks of Bluefin tuna have decreased significantly in recent years and many consider it to be in grave danger of extinction.

Can the Bluefin tuna be saved? It is possible and recent news articles are reporting a surprising recovery of stocks yet what is the truth behind the sensational headlines? 

On this past November 19, the 48 Contracting Parties of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), following advice of their Scientific Committee, agreed on increasing the Bluefin tuna fishing quotas from 12,900 tons to 13,500 tons in 2013. This is the first quota expansion in ten years, reflecting a belief that stocks have begun recovery, yet small enough to show that recovery still has quite a ways to go. Spain was one of the countries significantly pushing for a much larger quota. In comparison, quotas back in 2006 had been as high as 32,000 tons so even the increased quota is less than half what it was back then.

This new quota will remain in effect for one year and then will be reviewed again in 2014. The Scientific Committee though has made the recommendation that the quota be maintained through 2022. It is evident the committee still sees the Bluefin tuna population as being in grave danger. It has since been estimated that Bluefin stocks dropped as much as 60% between 1997 and 2007 because of lax quotas and overfishing, often illegal. With the greatly decreased quotas, and lower availability, the price of Bluefin rose to record levels and the minor increase in quotas for 2013 is not expected to lower prices to any significant degree.  

The quota increase was due to a recent Stock Assessment by the Scientific Committee which indicated a strong possibility that Bluefin stocks have seen a population increase. However, that good news is tempered by the fact that the conclusions are tentative as there are still many unknown factors. The pace and extent of the recovery is still unknown, and the underlying data is incomplete due to a lack of full information regarding illegal fishing. The scientists voiced a conclusion that any efforts and changes based on their report be very conservative, to ensure recovery continues and there is not a setback.

Consumers and others must be aware that any Bluefin recovery is tentative and that strong measures to protect the tuna are still warranted. Some news articles may trumpet the recovery without noting the tentativeness of the report's conclusions. There are still too many unknowns to be absolutely positive of the conclusions. Much more study and research is needed to properly assess and protect the Bluefin. Investment of time and money into this issue is vital.

Some environmentalist groups, such as the World Wildlife Fund, have been supportive of the ICCAT vote, noting that ICCAT's decision was based on scientific evidence. Yet other criticisms of ICCAT remain. For one, it is claimed that ICCAT has not done enough to prevent illegal, unregulated and unreported Bluefin tuna fishing. A recent study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund uncovered some disturbing information, indicating a lack of action on behalf of ICCAT to address a substantial problem.

Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 19,000 tons of Bluefin tuna were traded through Panama, though none of that tuna was reported as caught to ICCAT. This trade involved countries including Spain, Italy, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey  and Japan. The Mediterranean countries would capture the tuna and send it to Panama, or Panama owned vessels, which would then send the tuna to Japan. All of these countries were members of ICCAT during this time period and were required to report all Bluefin tuna they caught yet they did not report any of this Panama trade. The trade peaked around 2007 but still was going on at least as late as 2010.

Now that the evidence has been collected, the WWF wants ICCAT to act on this information. It is such illegal and/or unreported stocks which are contributing to the depletion of Bluefin. A quota is only effective it is is followed. If countries continue to ignore the quota, then Bluefin won't recover. The ICCAT has taken an important first step with quotas, but it must continue its efforts and take the next step, to ensure compliance on reporting and helping to thwart illegal fishing.

Save the Bluefin tuna!

1 comment:

מה חדש said...

i checked your new information and this data is true. the bluefin tuna market is growing