The U.S. delegation to the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) opposed the overharvest of Atlantic bluefin tuna by Eastern Atlantic fishing nations. Representatives of the European Community had proposed an increase in the quota for Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna fishermen.
"We took a tough stance to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks because we could not accept a harvest level that is clearly inconsistent with scientific advice," said Rolland Schmitten, one of three U.S. ICCAT commissioners and director of the Office of Habitat Protection in the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). ICCAT was formed to provide an international forum to manage these populations at levels that support the maximum sustainable catch. This goal takes on worldwide importance in light of the ground-breaking independent study led by Stanford University tuna researcher Dr. Barbara A. Block. The study reported that these tuna travel across the North Atlantic, even entering the Mediterranean Sea, sometimes more than once each year (see "Newslines" November 2001).
Currently the Atlantic bluefin tuna stock is far below its historic biomass level. "The United States, its recreation and commercial fishing groups, and environmental and conservation organizations have worked through ICCAT to adopt a recovery plan that has successfully arrested the decline of the Western Atlantic bluefin tuna stock," said Schmitten. "It is now time for Eastern Atlantic fishing countries to adopt similar management steps in the face of the scientific evidence."
Citing a lack of time for full discussion, the commission chair recessed the meeting, ending the discussion without establishing catch levels or conservation measures. In light of the discord, member nations could ignore previous harvest restrictions.
Though the tuna issue remains unresolved, sub-committees did pass resolutions and made recommendations. The U.S. delegation hopes many of the measures will pass, including:
- ICCAT's first resolution to adopt voluntary management of sharks and require data collection to prepare for stock assessments of blue and mako sharks in 2004.
- A resolution that supports scientific research to help understand Atlantic bluefin tuna stock mixing and movements.
- An amendment to the Atlantic blue marlin and white marlin rebuilding plan that keeps current management measures in place and plans for future stock assessments.
- A resolution to evaluate the effects of time/area closures to protect small swordfish.
- A recommendation to track the trade of bigeye tuna and swordfish.
- Tools to fight illegal, unreported or under-reported fishing, including a management standard for large-scale longliners.
- Proposals to collect bycatch data on seabirds and turtles.For more information, visit http://www.iccat.org.