Members of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas will this week consider measures ranging from a better tracking method for bluefin tuna caught in Atlantic waters to the first ever catch quota for the world’s fastest shark.
The commission, which has 46 member countries as well as the European Union, will begin meeting today in Cape Town to discuss catch quotas and other conservation measures for tuna and tuna-like species of fish in the Atlantic.
It’s being urged by the environmental unit of Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-profit organization that advises governments on sustainable fishing, to maintain catch quotas for bluefin tuna at their 2013 levels.This will allow for the recovery of overfished tuna populations in the region. Washington-based Pew also wants the group by March to implement an electronic catch recording documentation system to replace a paper system susceptible to fraud. The first-ever shark catch quotas are also being proposed.
“ICCAT members must reaffirm their commitment to following the scientific advice,” Jamie Gibbon, a tuna expert at Pew, said in an e-mailed response to questions on Nov. 15. “Maintaining the catch limits for Atlantic bluefin tuna at the current levels will allow the population to recover and grow, which will benefit both the bluefin and the fishermen that rely on them.”
ICCAT’s 2013 bluefin catch quota is 1,750 metric tons in the western Atlantic and 13,400 metric tons in the Eastern Atlantic, according to Pew. Thats about half the level it was in 2005.
Atlantic bluefin tuna, sold in premium sushi restaurants, can sell for tens of thousands of dollars per fish, which can each grow to the size of a small car.
Actual catch of Atlantic bluefin exceeded quotas by 57 percent between 2008 and 2011, according to a scientific study cited by Pew, necessitating the need for an electronic tracking system to curb illegal fishing. The biggest consumer of the fish is Japan.
The species’ population is only at 65 percent of a sustainable level in the Mediterranean, Gibbon said. In the western Atlantic, where the fish spawn in the Gulf of Mexico, the population is at 36 percent of its 1970 level and in 1964 the catch in the region was 18,000 tons, more than 10 times the current quota. The fish migrate between the eastern and western populations and catch quotas were introduced in 1998.
The ICCAT, which will meet Nov. 18-25, should also establish catch limits for the shortfin mako, the fastest swimming shark, and blue sharks, to prevent overfishing of the species, according to Pew. The catch of blue sharks has increased to 70,000 tons in 2011 from 54,000 tons in 2008, it said, citing ICCAT data. Most sharks are consumed in the form of shark-fin soup.
“ICCAT could take historic action by putting in place the first ever international catch limit for a shark species,” Elizabeth Wilson, who leads The Pew Charitable Trusts’ International Ocean Policy Program, said by e-mail. “Precautionary catch limits at the ICCAT level would help ensure healthy populations of shortfin mako and blue sharks.”
Shortfin Mako are metallic blue, live throughout the world’s oceans and can grow up to 1,425 pounds, according to the Florida Natural History Museum. One has been recorded at swimming as fast as 43 miles per hour and they can leap 20 feet out of the water, according to Discovery Channel.
Blue sharks can weigh up to 450 pounds and are also found worldwide. Pew also wants ICCAT to mandate that Porbeagle sharks, a heavily built 500 pound species, are returned to the ocean when caught.
The EU will push ICCAT to heed “scientific advice” at the meeting, Maria Damanaki, the European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said in a Nov. 11 statement.
ICCAT also monitors the conservation of bigeye tuna, yellowfin tuna, albacore, swordfish and billfishes.
The current catch quota for bigeye tuna is 85,000 tons while the yellowfin quota is 110,000 tons. The quota for north Atlantic swordfish is 13,700 tons while a catch of 15,000 tons of south Atlantic swordfish is permitted.
The catch for North Atlantic albacore is set at 28,000 tons while that for southern albacore is 24,000 tons. The blue marlin quota is 2,000 tons and the white marlin quota is 400 tons.
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