Thursday, May 26

Is bluefin tuna a new pest for the Mediterranean?

Raúl García Rodríguez, Fisheries Coordinator for WWF / Adena in Spain, explains that the population of bluefin tuna, a species that spans the Mediterranean but also other areas of the planet from the Atlantic to the Arctic, has improved in recent years, including that such growth could be considered “spectacular” in some areas. But still far from the biomass of this species that existed in the 70s, a reference for experts and the moment when industrial fishing took off. The population has not recovered since then and their fishing depends on a global quota system managed by each country. In the world, 36,000 tons of bluefin tuna can be caught per year in a quantity regulated through an international agreement that will not be reviewed for two years. Spain has awarded 6,000. Most of it is managed by just half a dozen large fattening companies – the largest is Murcia. García does believe that European legislation gives scope for the artisanal fleet, which is the one that still works on the coasts of the Community, to be able to develop sustainable bluefin tuna fishing, with a redistribution of that quota.

It was the Interfederative Commission of Fishermen’s Guilds of the Valencian Community (Coincopesca) which used the term “plague” in reference to the bluefin tuna as it is considered responsible for the decrease in anchovy and sardine catches, main species by volume of catches for purse seine fleets in this area of ​​the Mediterranean. With this argument they demanded to increase the tuna catch quotas, reduced to the work of small gear vessels and hardly significant in the Valencian Community. Bluefin tuna is a species of high commercial value, of course much more than the modest sardine and anchovy, so that from this request of the brotherhoods the undoubted economic interest of exploitation of a highly profitable species such as tuna, that the eagerness for reduce the supposed environmental impact of a pest. The situation would allow a discreet increase in quotas through a joint claim by the brotherhoods and the artisanal fleet with sustainable fishing.

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In this sense, Pedro García, director of the Association of Naturalists of the Southeast (ANSE) recalls some data. For a tuna to gain one kilo, it takes about twenty ancho or sardines. And who supplies that feed to the fattening farms? The purse seiners of the artisanal fleet. The increase in bluefin tuna also has environmental causes. Its natural predator, the shark, is disappearing subjected to a brutal overexploitation that is killing white sharks and porbeagle sharks.

“I understand fishermen when they open a tuna and find it full of red prawns or anchovies,” says García Rodríguez. But the research is clear and indicates that the current bluefin tuna population is only capable of preying 3% of anchovies. And the marine habitat is all very relative. The tuna fry are also prey for jellyfish and the anchovies themselves.

Conservationists, who acknowledge that quotas are working and are scrupulously enforced in Spain – not in countries like Morocco – consider that it is not possible to go from “one extreme to another.” From a species that was in danger of extinction in 2005 to lift all restrictions on its capture.

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