Friday, June 11, 2010

Bluefin Fishing Banned. If Only...

The 2010 fishing season for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean closed a week early. Headlines trumpeted the 'good news': "bluefin fishing banned" in the Mediterranean! But let's take a quick look at whether it is indeed 'good news'...
As you probably know (from the news and my previous post), the mighty bluefin tuna have been fished sustainably for centuries. But some years ago, a new technique of purse-seining led to a huge increase in targeted fishing with massive nets. It made economic sense to target these fish when they were most accessible... unfortunately that was exactly when they migrated annually into the Mediterranean to spawn.
In just a few decades, the bluefin population has been almost wiped out. Best estimates suggest stock levels are less than 15% of those before purse-seining started. Things are at crisis point, and the fault lies squarely with the purse-seining industry and the Japanese sushi market.
Today's EU bluefin quotas are the lowest ever and the season the shortest ever – a mere calendar month. But with so much focus on this issue, and so much bad press over the overfishing and illegal fishing that's decimated this species, fishing countries want to show they're doing things properly: hence the early shutdown.
No, it's not a permanent ban: it's only for the rest of this year. And it's a mere formality anyway: the allocated quotas had been reached, so the EU called the boats home. What should shock us is the speed with which those quotas were filled: done with a week to spare, even though bad weather stopped fishing for a week, and despite there being far less boats chasing the tuna!
This shows just how ruthlessly efficient the bluefin catching machine is when it gets rolling. Little wonder it's brought the species to the verge of commercial extinction.

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