Bluefin quotas are meaningless – EU misses another critical opportunity

FWE today said that quotas to limit the catch of bluefin tuna will not be enough to help save these fish, and that stronger leadership from the EU would be supported by many worldwide.



Statement of Food & Water Europe Executive Director Wenonah Hauter

FWE today said that quotas to limit the catch of bluefin tuna will not be enough to help save these fish, and that stronger leadership from the EU would be supported by many worldwide.

(Brussels, Belgium)

“Attempts to prevent the extinction of the Atlantic bluefin tuna received another setback this week in the run up to the EU fisheries council meeting, when the EU-led meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) decided to lower the annual catch quota rather than institute a temporary catch ban. The new catch “limit” is 13,500 tons, but between chronic failure to enforce quotas and illegal fishing, this number is actually meaningless.

“The ICCAT could pick a number out of a hat and call it a quota for what it will matter to the bluefin tuna. In 2008 when the quota was already set 42% above scientific advice, it is estimated that the total catch was almost three times the set quota due to “pirate fishing.” [1] The Japanese food industry alone imported amounts of Atlantic bluefin tuna almost equalling the entire 2008 quota[2], and Japan is not the only market driving the demand that far outpaces supply. It’s quite incredible that there is no accountability for these short-term decisions or the failure to enforce them.

“We need the EU and US to act to halt trade in bluefin so that stocks can recover and collapse averted. A moratorium is the only clear way forward, but this is the second time this Autumn EU leadership has failed to secure one. This is no longer a political question, but an ecological and economic imperative, unless the EU wishes to admit it has abdicated responsibility in this area to illegal fishing.

“Genuine artisanal fishing communities will need support, and may need special dispensation to protect their way of life. This can and should be done, but the industrial trade in bluefin must be halted.

“It has been suggested that measures to halt the industrial trade in bluefin will lead to illegal fishing. If so, then this prediction should be used to step up monitoring and enforcement, not as an excuse not to act.”

“Atlantic bluefin tuna are both an emblematic conservation and culinary species, being an important part of Mediterranean ecosystem, and highly prized for sushi and sashimi. However, strong demand from Japan has fueled industrial and illegal fishing practices that have pushed the species to the brink of economic extinction – effectively disenfranchising sustainable artisanal fishermen in the process.

“Food and Water Europe supports artisanal and historic fishing and an exception for traditional catch in a few Mediterranean countries. Coastal fishing communities who practice artisanal methods have centuries of experience balancing their harvesting behavior against available resources for long term management. Once the fish stock is rebuilt, if fishing is once again permitted, it should be conducted in a sustainable manner that promotes the livelihoods of responsible artisanal fishermen. It is industrial and illegal fishing that is destroying the delicate balance of the ecosystem.

“The March 2010 CITES meeting of its 175 parties could vote to ban bluefin fishing, but this would require the EU bloc to reconsider its failure to support a temporary ban in September. That proposal was tabled by Monaco and backed by 21 EU Members, as well as the US, but faltered due to a lack of support from Mediterranean countries. Food and Water Europe urges both the EU and US to do what they can to persuade opposing countries to see that the future lies in working together and heeding expert advice to list bluefin tuna in Appendix I as an endangered species. [3]

Food and Water Europe is a project of Food and Water Watch, Inc (a non-profit consumer NGO based in Washington, DC) working to ensure clean water and safe food in Europe and around the world. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

Contact: Gabriella Zanzanaini, Food and Water Europe, Brussels
[email protected], +32 488 409 662


[1] “2008 scientific recommendation 15,5000 tons, quota set at 22,000, with illegal fishing estimated to bring the total catch to some 61,000 tons.” See

[2] “About half of the 43,000 tons of bluefin tuna supplied to the Japanese market in 2008 was imported Atlantic bluefin.” See .

[3] See Food and Water Europe press release “EU Member States Fail to Protect Bluefin Tuna”, 24 September 2009 at .