Bluefin Tuna Recovery in Mediterranean Threatened by Push for Higher Catches, Experts Say

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) is considering loosening catch restrictions on bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic Ocean, a move that could imperil an ongoing recovery of the stock.

Meeting in Morocco this week, ICCAT — which sets catch limits for various tuna species — is under pressure from member countries such as Japan, France, and Italy to increase the catch quota of bluefin tuna from 24,000 tons annually to 36,000 tons annually. But scientists and conservationists say that increasing the catch limit by 50 percent will set back a bluefin recovery effort enacted in 2007 after stocks of the prized sushi fish were badly overexploited in the Mediterranean and Atlantic.

“The bluefin tuna stock is not yet ready to support such a rapid increase… and would suffer from less strict management,” said Alessandro Buzzi, fisheries project manager at WWF Mediterranean. “It took us more than 10 years to bring bluefin tuna back to our seas and we cannot lose it again for short-term profit.”

The chairman of ICCAT also warned against member countries lobbying too aggressively to loosen catch restrictions. “We cannot afford to be described again as an international failure and shame, as was the case previously,” said chairman Martin Tsamenyi.