The European Commission yesterday closed EU fisheries for bluefin tuna until the end of the year, in a move aimed at replenishing stocks but which the Greens criticised as being “too little, too late”.
The Commission decided to act quickly by closing its Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean fishery after it emerged that its 2007 quota of 16, 779.5 tonnes had already been exhausted.
It admitted failings in the reporting of the catch data necessary to monitor the uptake of tuna in real time, and announced that it will propose measures to address the problem in time for the 2008 fishery.
Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Joe Borg said: “Clearly there are problems both of over-fishing a stock already threatened with collapse and of equity between the member states concerned. As is its duty, the Commission will do all it can to address these issues urgently”.
Scientists have long warned of the potential for collapse in the eastern stock of bluefin tuna if nothing was done to reduce fishing activity in the region.
Commenting on the decision, French Green MEP and Fisheries Committee member Marie-Hélène Aubert said: “The belated decision to close the bluefin tuna fisheries in the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic could be too little too late for the stock.”
Describing the state of bluefin tuna stocks as “dire”, she claimed that the current situation was caused by “excessive quotas” and “illegal and unregulated fishing”. “The EU must keep the ban agreed today in place indefinitely until independent scientific evidence demonstrates that sustainable fishing is possible,” she said.
Portugal, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Malta are likely to be most affected by the decision. The other two countries concerned, Italy and France, pre-empted the Commission by closing their fisheries in July and August respectively.
The Commission said that those member states that have not yet caught their quota for 2007 would be compensated in subsequent years. Similarly, those that have over-fished this year will see deductions to their future allowances.
The Greens stressed that “protecting bluefin tuna is clearly in the interest of Europe’s fishermen, as well as the biodiversity of its seas”. “The EU must stop supporting the manmade extinction of this species,” said Aubert, adding that the EU needs “to introduce a programme to reduce the capacity of its fishing fleet” if a long-term solution is to be found.