Commission warms to bluefin tuna ban

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The European Commission decided to provisionally back a proposed ban on the international trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna on Tuesday (8 September).

The Commission will put to member states its proposal to co-sponsor Monaco’s attempt to get the species listed as endangered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). 

The listing would effectively suspend international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna until stocks are no longer threatened with extinction. 

However, the Commission reserved the right to review its decision before the next CITES Conference of the Parties in March 2010. It said it drew on the evidence available up until 2008, and will have to take into account “the most recent scientific data,” as well as decisions made at the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in November 2009. 

All species of bluefin tuna are widely judged to be subject to unsustainable pressure from fishing which could threaten their very survival. 

Some political groups in the European Parliament have been vocal in pushing the Commission to support the tuna ban. Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe MEPs called for strong intervention from the EU executive as part of a current review of the Common Fisheries Policy, which they believe needs to ensure “more fundamental” reform. 

Spanish Green MEP Raül Romeva responded positively but cautiously to the Commission’s decision, saying it had given “only qualified support” for Monaco’s proposal, and reminded the EU that it bears a large responsibility for “the current disastrous situation”. 

Environmental NGOs, meanwhile, welcomed the Commission’s move overall, but pressed for more to be done. The World Wildlife Fund urged EU member states “to follow the Commission’s lead,” whilst Saskia Richartz, EU ocean policy director for Greenpeace described the ban as a “last resort”, which “merely buys the EU time to put its fisheries management in order”. 

Following the Commission’s decision, a scientific review group will convene on 11 September to assess the latest scientific evidence and advise the EU’s CITES Management Committee, which meets on 21 September. 

EU member states take a uniform position at CITES meetings, based on the verdict of the Management Committee – comprised of ministry representatives from member states – which needs a qualified majority to back the proposed ban. 

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