Bluefin tuna protection halted by fishing nations

Highly prized bluefin tuna at a Tokyo market. Prices hit �4,600 a kilo in 2013 but have since fallen to �136 a kilo. Picture: AP
Highly prized bluefin tuna at a Tokyo market. Prices hit �4,600 a kilo in 2013 but have since fallen to �136 a kilo. Picture: AP
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An INTERNATIONAL body that monitors fisheries in the Pacific Ocean ended a meeting in Japan yesterday without agreement on fresh measures to protect the dwindling bluefin tuna.

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission was unable to get a consensus on either short-term or long-term measures to help restore the bluefin population, whose numbers are estimated to have fallen 96 per cent from unfished levels.

Last year, the ten-nation commission recommended the catch of juvenile tuna be cut to half of its average level in 2002 to 2004. But conservation groups said more must be done to counter the sharp decline of the species.

The lack of a required three-quarters quorum prevented any agreement, since representatives from China, the Cook Islands, Vanuatu and the Philippines did not attend, pushing back to 2016 any decisions on new long-term measures, the Japanese Fisheries Agency said.

Further inaction is likely to prompt efforts by conservationists to have Pacific bluefin tuna banned from international trading, said the US-based Pew Charitable Trusts.

Amanda Nickson, director of global tuna conservation for the group, said: “The only outcome of this week’s meeting is a guarantee that the Pacific bluefin tuna population will decline even further because of the continued inaction of ten governments responsible for the management of this species. The international community may be forced to look at a global trade ban.”

The fisheries group also did not agree to a request by researchers to study the results of stricter fisheries management during its four-day meeting in the northern city of Sapporo.

The Japanese eat 80 per cent of the world’s bluefin tuna, or “hon maguro”, a sushi mainstay, and demand elsewhere in the world has been growing. At a ritual new year auction, the top price for bluefin jumped to about £4,600 a kilo in 2013 but was a more reasonable £136 a kilo this year.

Most of the fish caught are juveniles that have not had a chance to reproduce. The species could recover quickly, however, since they are highly productive, spawning millions of eggs a year.

Greenpeace praised Japanese representatives for proposing emergency measures to help the bluefin, but said given the severity of its decline Japan should restrict sales of the fish.

An International Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species in the Northern Pacific Ocean assessment found stocks in 2012 near their lowest ever at just 4 per cent of the first recorded levels.