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NEWS | Wednesday, 29 October 2008

‘Time is running out’ for Mediterranean bluefin – Joe Borg

European Commissioner for Fisheries Joe Borg has given his clearest indication to date that he may announce a moratorium on Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishing, at the forthcoming meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT in Morocco on 17 November.
“Time is running out to save the bluefin tuna stock from collapse,” Borg said after emerging from EU Fisheries Council discussions in Luxembourg on Monday, adding that following agreements with EU member states, the EU will now be “able to champion bold and decisive measures” at the ICCAT meeting.
It remains to be seen whether these measures will extend to a total moratorium on bluefin tuna, as demanded by both the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which last month voted overwhelmingly in favour of closing the 2009 season.
Among the surprise supporters of this motion were both Spain and Japan: among the largest exporters and consumers of bluefin tuna in the world.
Speaking at a press conference after Monday’s meeting, current President of the EU Fisheries Council, France’s Fisheries Minister Michel Barnier, said that “the mandate of the (European) Commission adopted today does not exclude this scenario”.
Joe Borg himself has already surprised the international community by announcing an abrupt closure half way through this year’s bluefin tuna’s season, on June 16, citing “over-fishing a stock already threatened with collapse” as the main reason.
The Commission’s mandate, negotiated during the Luxembourg meeting, includes “taking into account scientific advice, balancing capacity of fishing fleets and tuna farms with the availability of the resource, revising technical measures such as shortening the fishing season, and pushing for a stronger control system for the whole fishery”.
The WWF yesterday urged all ICCAT parties to take a courageous decision to safeguard both the bluefin tuna and the fisheries that depend on its survival.
“The Mediterranean bluefin fishery must be closed by ICCAT in November, pending the imposition of proper controls, a reduction in fishing capacity, and the effective implementation of a scientifically based recovery plan,” Dr Sergi Tudela, Head of Fisheries at WWF Mediterranean, said. “The international community has in the IUCN resolution already shown its consensus that this is the right thing – indeed, the only thing – to save tuna in the Mediterranean.”

Out of control
The Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery has recently been singled out by an independent panel of ICCAT-commissioned experts as an “international disgrace” and a “travesty of fisheries management”.
Malta in particular has recently been accused of distorting export figures to conceal its presumed role in a tuna laundering racket, whereby other countries’ excess catch is allegedly passed off as a Maltese re-export.
In July, MaltaToday published a series of articles comparing Malta’s official export figures of over 11,000 tonnes to Japan, with independent estimates of Malta’s export potential over the same time period. According to the estimates of consultancy firm ATRT/SL and Japanese newspaper Asahi Shinbum, there was a discrepancy of over 6,000 tonnes between the amount exported, and the quantity physically available for export.
At current market prices, the total value of these exports amounts to over €100 million.
The Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs has consistently denied these claims, but questions have since arisen over its official breakdown of figures: in particular, its claims that up to 5,000 tonnes of the excess exports were accounted for by transhipments from third countries such as Turkey and Libya, from which Malta registered no imports for 2007/2008.
The European Commission has to date resisted commenting on these allegations, telling this newspaper that it would wait for the release of Japanese trade figures for Q1 and Q2 of 2008.
MaltaToday is informed that these trade statistics have now been officially made public, and can therefore be analyzed by the Commission at will.


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