November concluded the international agreement in Paris concerning the bluefin tuna quota for 2011. For the past years, the bluefin tuna has been listed as endangered and after the disaster of the gulf oil spill have become critically endangered. While some countries have backed a ban on bluefin tuna (this includes the US) others have backed out on large quota cuts for 2011 from 50 percent to a mere 4 percent. According to some scientists, should fishing continue at such a rate, this species will become extinct, most notably in the Mediterranean, by 2012.
In November, 48 countries met for the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) to discuss future plans for bluefin tuna quotas. Currently, France, Italy and Spain catch most of the bluefin tuna that is consumed on the global market while Japan imports about 80 percent of its total catch. The 2010 quota was set to 13,500 tons, down from 19,950 tons from 2009 [Source: World Fishing]. Many environmentalists and scientists have spoken against these high quotas as it does not fit a sustainable model. Members of the European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs urged those in the ICCAT to reduce the quota below 6,000 tons (more than 50 percent) to ensure that there would be viable stock until 2020 and long term sustainability [Source: Times of India]. Unfortunately, after adjournment of the conference, consensus led to only a 4 percent decrease (12,900 tons) in bluefin tuna stock. Those privy to the meeting stated that the quota would actually be around 11,000 and some countries stated that they would not fish their entire quota. Still, by ICCAT’s own calculations, the bluefin tuna only had a 70 percent chance of recovery given the current quota, and in 2009 even stated a global ban of bluefin tuna was justified considering fish spawning biomass was 15% of its pre-industrial fishing stock [Source: Mongo Bay].
While the ICCAT stated that only 11,000 tons would probably be fished, it did not mention any methods on stopping black market trade on the bluefin tuna. According to a report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the market has exploded to a $4 billion enterprise and during the height of the blackmarket (1997-2007), nearly one in every three bluefin tuna was caught illegaly. Fishermen and fisheries in and around the Mediterranean were found to be doctoring numbers, regularly and willfully violated quotas, caught undersized fish, and engaged in other illegal practices like trading fishing quotas and using banned spotter planes. While regulations have been tightened in the EU since 2007 (France actually began reporting accurate numbers), less regulated fishing ships off of North Africa and Turkey have taken up where the European fleets left off. Japan is at the heart of the issue, as they took part in black market tuna since the 1980s and consume 80 percent of the world’s bluefin tuna and Mitsubish owns nearly 40 percent of the bluefin tuna market. Should the fish reach the brink of extinction, the company could stand to gain billions of dollars off of its reserve [Source: Treehugger].
Despite the lack of emphasis on bluefin tuna quotas, the ICCAT did offer more protection for hammerhead sharks and whitetip sharks as more countries have begun viewing shark fin as a delicacy (most notably in Asia). Still, the organization has a long way to go before it truly can be called a conservation group and if long-term goals continue to be put aside for short term profit, bluefin tunas may only have one more year before it is overfished to extinction.