WASHINGTON (CN) – While the eastern Atlantic population of the bluefin tuna faces collapse, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposed decreasing the U.S. catch of bluefin tuna in the western Atlantic management area by 5 percent to 952 metric tons for 2010, down from just over 1,000 metric tons in 2009.
The 5 percent decrease had been recommended by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which manages the bluefin tuna population in the eastern and western Atlantic management areas.
The U.S. share of total allowable catch in the western Atlantic management area is nearly 60 percent, with Canada and Japan nearly splitting the remainder. Britain and France have small allocations through their Caribbean-based fleets, and Mexico can keep “incidental catch” on the longline fishery in the Gulf of Mexico.
Earlier this year ICCAT ordered a 40 percent reduction in allowable catch of tuna in the eastern Atlantic management area (which includes the Mediterranean) that U.S. scientists felt was inconsistent with ICCAT’s own studies indicating that a 60 percent reduction in catch – if not an outright moratorium – was necessary to rebuild the eastern stocks.
However, according to fishery management specialist Bruce McHale, “the U.S. allocation of the western Atlantic management area is consistent with ICCAT and domestic studies to maintain a healthy fishery.”
“The problem in managing the bluefin tuna in two management areas is determining what degree of interaction there is between the two,” said McHale, who works in the Highly Migratory Species Division of the National Marine Fisheries Service of NOAA, which manages domestic implementation of ICCAT mandates.
Even small migrations of tuna from the western area can result in over-catch by eastern fisheries, because the western quota is just under 1,900 metric tons while the eastern quota is about 13,000 metric tons. The depleted western stock is thus vulnerable to overfishing in the east Atlantic whenever a western fish migrates east of the mid-Atlantic divide between the two fishing areas.
Bluefin tuna is considered to be the world’s premium species for sushi-grade fish, and a large percentage of the domestic catch is exported to Asian countries.
This has led conservationists to call for a ban on after-catch trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The CITES listing doesn’t specify where the regulated species came from, thus providing global protection to the bluefin tuna.