The Coastal Conservation Association Board of Directors is calling for Atlantic harvest levels of bluefin tuna to be reduced to levels supported by science and is urging the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) to require all member nations to adopt such quotas by emergency action.
If ICCAT refuses to do so, CCA believes that the only alternative is a complete closure of the Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery and an international curtailment of trade. The call to action was outlined in a letter from CCA National Chairman Walter W. Fondren III to Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez and Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne.
"Many marine scientists believe bluefin are on the verge of a stock collapse, and there are indications here in the US that the stock has already crashed," said Robert G. Hayes, CCA general counsel. "Sometimes all you are left with is the truth, and the painful truth now is that nothing less than emergency action can reverse the years of overfishing that resulted from exceeding quotas that in themselves were set too high."
Tuna range throughout the Atlantic from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Mexico. As one of the most valuable fish in the sea, bluefin tuna are targeted throughout their range by the fishing fleets of many nations while fishery managers on either side of the Atlantic have been unable or unwilling to agree on an effective recovery plan. Catches from the eastern stock of bluefin, spawned in the Mediterranean, have exceeded scientific advice by almost 400 percent for at least the last five years. Rebuilding plans for the western stock, spawned in the Gulf of Mexico, have also been a complete failure, with the U.S. unable to catch its quota for the past three years.
"The focus has been on the business side of this fishery for far too long and greed has been the driving force in its management," said Charles Witek, vice chairman of CCA's National Government Relations Committee. "CCA has long known that focusing on anything other than the health of the resource is the first step to ensuring its demise. Bluefin are another tragic example of what happens when you put business and fishermen first."
The moratorium would have to be adopted by the member nations of ICCAT, a United Nations chartered fishery organization responsible for the conservation of such recreationally and commercially important species as tuna, swordfish and marlin in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas. The organization was established by treaty in 1969 and is the only organization that can undertake the range of work required for the study and management of tunas and other key migratory species in the Atlantic.
"As is so often the case, the American fisherman is not responsible for driving bluefin tuna to the brink of collapse, but they are going to have to be a part of the solution to salvage what is left," said Dr. Russell Nelson, CCA's Gulf fisheries consultant.