The member states of the European Union could reopen their long-running arguments over bluefin tuna on Friday (12 November), as they debate the latest plan to save Mediterranean stocks of the prized fish from extinction.
The member states are under pressure to reach an agreement among themselves before the EU joins 48 tuna-fishing nations at a meeting next week that is increasingly seen as the fish’s last hope of survival.
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), an intergovernmental body, is to meet in Paris (17-27 November) to agree a recovery plan for bluefin tuna for 2011-13.
On Tuesday (9 November), the European Commission reached a draft negotiating position for the EU to propose at the ICCAT meeting, calling for “a reduction of the total allowable catches [TACS] of bluefin tuna based on science”. No figures on catch quotas were specified.
Agreed after Commission in-fighting, the draft mandate is a setback for Maria Damanaki, the European commissioner for fisheries, who as recently as last month called for “a significant reduction” in the bluefin tuna catch. This tough language proved anathema to the EU’s big tuna-fishing countries, including France, Italy and Spain, which argued there was no reason to cut the TAC so sharply.
‘Major step forward’
But on Tuesday Damanaki described the draft mandate as “a major step forward” that would be “much more effective than an approach [followed in the past] that would simply aim at adjusting catches around last year’s figures”.
Sergi Tudela, head of the fisheries programme for WWF, a conservation group, offered mixed views on the draft mandate.“We appreciate the fact that it is pointing to the need for a reduction on the TAC…but the more negative side is that there are not figures here,” he said. “This leaves the mandate too open.”
The EU’s preparations coincide with reports published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which detail how European fishermen have been breaking quota rules for years, sometimes, it is alleged, with the collusion of national government officials.
In 2009, ICCAT decided that future quotas should give bluefin tuna “at least” a 60% chance of recovery by 2022. ICCAT scientists have recommended an annual total allowable catch of between zero and 13,500 tonnes. WWF has called for a much lower ceiling to maximise the chances of recovery.
“It is clear that according to the scientific advice and legal obligations [the TAC] should be set between zero and 6,000 tonnes,” said Tudela. He pointed out that the EU’s 2008 marine strategy framework directive also puts an obligation on EU member states to keep all fish within sustainable limits by 2020 – two years ahead of the ICCAT deadline.
Friday’s meeting could once again test the EU’s unity on bluefin tuna and re-run past debates that have pitted Mediterranean tuna-fishing countries against conservation-minded northerners, such as Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.
The intention is for deputy ambassadors meeting on Friday to agree the EU position before ministers rubber-stamp the decision just in time for the Paris meeting.
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