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Commission: ICCAT's welcome decisions confirm its commitment to bluefin tuna recovery plan
The European Commission has welcomed the outcome of the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) which closed today in Antalya, Turkey. Despite calls to reopen the debate on the fifteen-year recovery plan for eastern bluefin tuna which was adopted last year, Delegates decided to continue to implement the plan as agreed for another year. A full review will be undertaken when new scientific advice is available at the end of 2008, as originally planned. Full implementation of the control scheme agreed as part of the recovery plan remains crucial, and the adoption of a new catch document to ensure traceability throughout the market chain is one of the major achievements of this meeting. ICCAT also adopted a number of proposals tabled by the EU, including a reduction in the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for northern albacore tuna to 30 200 tonnes for 2008 and 2009, a one-month closed season for Mediterranean swordfish, and measures to mitigate bird by-catch in longline fisheries in the southern Atlantic.
Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, Joe Borg, commented: "The situation of the eastern bluefin tuna stock is of grave concern to us. We need to give the recovery plan time to work. However, we also need to heed the signals we receive when they are supported by reliable data and serious analysis. If, in 2008, the scientists tell us that the plan is not working, then we must consider every option which might help prevent the collapse of this historic fishery."
The recovery plan for bluefin tuna was adopted at last year's annual ICCAT meeting in Dubrovnik, but its implementation was delayed until mid-June for procedural reasons (IP/06/1632; IP/07/788). As a result, most of the 2007 fishing season was carried out before key elements of the plan could be put in place. An important one is the new control scheme, which is designed to eliminate underreporting and illegal fishing identified as two of the main causes of overfishing.
The EU itself overfished its 2007 quota by over 4000 tonnes, due to the failure of Member States to transmit data in a timely manner, and where necessary to close their fisheries as soon as their quota was exhausted. The Commission has opened infringement procedures against Member States in relation to these shortcomings (IP/07/1355; IP/07/1399). The Commission has declared this overfishing to ICCAT, and a payback regime was agreed at the meeting which will see the EU pay back 100% of this year's quota overshoot in three equal annual instalments starting in 2009. The full amount to be paid back is subject to revision following the outcome of a number of investigations into catch data currently ongoing in the Member States.
Poor compliance with existing measures remains one of the main root causes of overfishing in bluefin tuna fisheries. ICCAT Contracting Parties, therefore, addressed this problem during the meeting to find ways of strengthening control and monitoring of all the various steps involved. Thus, the Delegates adopted a new catch document to be used to trace all catches of eastern bluefin tuna throughout the market chain, from net to plate. This document will be one of the keys to making control and monitoring work in this fishery, where the rapid expansion of catches has been fuelled by high demand from the East Asian market. ICCAT will convene a meeting in Tokyo before the start of the 2008 fishing season to bring together all those involved in the bluefin tuna fishery and marketing chain, to see how better understanding and coordination between different players could help reduce market-based pressure on the resource.
ICCAT also adopted a number of other important conservation and environmental measures, many of them on the EU's initiative. For northern albacore tuna, Delegates agreed an EU proposal to reduce the TAC for 2008 and 2009 to 30 200 tonnes (2007: 34 500 tonnes) in line with scientific advice. The maximum carry-over of unused quota between fishing years will also be reduced from 50% to 25%.
In the case of Mediterranean swordfish, the general good health of the stock is being undermined by large catches of very small fish in the latter part of the year. ICCAT adopted an EU proposal to close the fishery from 15 October to 15 November, which should help significantly reduce the biological damage being done. This measure should form the first step towards developing a multi-annual management plan for this stock at ICCAT level.
Another EU initiative led to the adoption of bird by-catch mitigation measures in the Atlantic longline fisheries similar to those recently established by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission. The EU also associated itself to a compromise proposal on sharks, which commits ICCAT members to reducing fishing mortality on porbeagle sharks, without specifying any particular target.
ICCAT is the regional fisheries management organisation responsible for the conservation and sustainable harvesting of tuna and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and associated waters. ICCAT currently has 45 Contracting Parties, and resolutions are adopted by consensus of the general assembly.
Source: European Commission Fisheries"
WorldFishingToday d. 19-11-2007