Members of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas heeded calls by environmental groups and left bluefin tuna catch quotas in the Atlantic unchanged, while rejecting proposals to impose the first quotas for some shark species.
The commission, which is known as ICCAT and has 46 member countries as well as the European Union, decided to leave the 2014 quota at 1,750 metric tons in the western Atlantic and 13,400 tons in the eastern Atlantic at a week-long meeting in Cape Town that ended yesterday.
“We are very happy about that,” Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries for the Worldwide Fund for Nature, told reporters in Cape Town yesterday. “It was very important for ICCAT to stick to science and to follow the scientific recommendations against some pressure from the contracting parties to increase the quota this year.”
Atlantic bluefin tuna, sold in premium sushi restaurants, can sell for tens of thousands of dollars per fish, which can each grow to the size of a small car.
“We decided to wait until next year’s stock assessment,” before deciding whether to review catch quotas, Masanori Miyahara, the commission’s chairman, said in an interview after the conclusion of the meetings. “Research is going on but we haven’t received the outcomes yet. We have worked very constructively and the results are very good for the stocks.”
Catch quotas, introduced in 1998, remain about half the level they were in 2005. The WWF and the environmental unit of Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-profit organization that advises governments on sustainable fishing, had called for quotas to remain unchanged to allow for the recovery of over-fished tuna populations.
“We know for sure that Japan wanted to increase the quota and there was sympathy from other contracting parties,” Tudela said. “There was a proposal to increase the quota by 400 tons but not even that increase was accepted. It was very important that the European delegation’s position was very strong, very firm.” Japan accounts for about 70 percent of bluefin consumption.
Still, a plan to electronically record and track tuna catches was delayed for a third time, according to Pew. A plan to force large fishing vessels to have an International Maritime Organization, or IMO, number to combat illegal fishing, was passed.
“For bluefin tuna it’s good news,” Jamie Gibbon, a tuna expert at Pew, said in an interview in Cape Town after the group’s meeting. “ICCAT has listened to its scientists and their advice and its maintained the catch limits at the current level which scientists have said will help the bluefin start their recovery.”
The allocation of tuna catch quotas between ICCAT member nations was also left unchanged, an issue that will be revisited at a meeting to be held in November next year.
The ICCAT had also been urged by environmental groups to establish catch limits for the short-fin mako, the fastest-swimming shark, and blue sharks, to prevent overfishing of the species, and strengthen a ban on the de-finning of the predators. Those would have been the first catch quotas for a shark species.
“They had really strong scientific advice to build off this year,” Luke Warwick, a shark specialist at Pew, said in an interview. “They did nothing. Governments really didn’t even get into the detailed debate.”
Shark quotas and other actions have been rejected for at least five years, according to Oceana, a conservation group, which said the measures were defeated by Asian nations and Canada. A prohibition on the retention of Porbeagle sharks also failed to garner support.
“ICCAT’s inaction on sharks continues to make a mockery of their management as the contracting parties choose to simply ignore scientific recommendations,” Alison Perry, a Europe-based shark campaigner for Oceana, said in an e-mailed statement.
About 100 million sharks are killed annually, according to Pew.
“There was just no consensus on sharks,” Miyahara said. “As always you will have a lot of proposals. We will continue working on sharks.”