This week in Paris is the showdown where ICCAT (The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) will set bluefin tuna quotas for 2011. From November 17 – 27, meetings will take place between member nations to discuss the severe decline in bluefin tuna stocks and where the fishing quota shout be set, hopefully in order to balance demand for these creatures, which are served as sushi (maguro & toro), and the need to reduce quotas to save the species from extinction.
Conservation groups, such as WWF, are demanding severe cuts to the current quota of 13,500 metric tons caught internationally, saying that the species is on the brink of extinction and will not survive much more harvesting at these quotas, particularly as poaching increases that number significantly each year and there is some admission from member nations that they do not adhere to the quotas. The other side of the coin is the fishing nations’ complaint that reducing the quotas will end jobs and reduce the economic opportunity for the fishermen who rely on the sea. Of course, what they don’t address is what will happen to those fishermen when the tuna are commercially depleted. While the EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki had proposed a 2011 quota of 6,000 metric tons for 2011 (which would be consistent with sustainability goals proposed for 2022), she immediately backtracked after a boisterous response from some member nations, and has instead called for a “substantial reduction” rather than a hard limit.
After the failed European Union attempt o have the species listed as endangered in March, many see this meeting as a last ditch effort to save the species. The species has declined an estimated 85% over the past four decades due to their value as a food fish, and unless more manageable practices are implemented, there is certainly reason to believe that stocks will continue to decline further.
Unfortunately the only groups that seem to be looking for year over year cuts to quotas are those that do not profit from the catch, which may indicate where the decision may lean. One can only hope that sensible minds preside and do their best to balance the need for short-term commerce with the need to preserve the species for future fishermen and sushi lovers.