Scientists at the the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) have warned that Japanese demand for the meat of the bluefin tuna to make sushi is bringing stocks of the species dangerously close to collapse
The bluefin is a major marine predator and its disappearance would destabilize the ecology of the Mediterranean.
Tuna is now a big business throughout the Mediterranean, and the lure of lucrative prices for the finest specimens attracts new boats to the industry, many of which allegedly controlled by Asian and Italian mafias.
Gerald Scott, the American chairman of ICCAT’s scientific committee, estimates that just 6 percent of the original Mediterranean bluefin stock remains today, claiming that fishermen in the Mediterranean have exceeded quotas for the last decade.
Lately a system of corralling the fish into ‘tuna ranches’ has revolutionised the industry. At the ranches, freshly caught tuna are fattened on squid and sardines in huge underwater cages, then fished, deep-frozen and shipped to Japan for sale at auction markets.
As a result, traditional almadrabas, fixed trap nets that fishermen have anchored off Spain’s south Atlantic coast since pre-Roman times, are virtually going out of business. The nets used to catch up to 2,500 tons a year, but this year managed only 1,300.
The risk now is that a resource that has sustained local families for three millennia could be wiped out by new technology in the course of a decade.
Critics of the ICCAT, including the United States, argue that the European countries that control the Commission are largely to blame for fixing quotas at twice those recommend by their own scientists and then failing to enforce them.
Last month, however, the Commission banned bluefin fishing for the rest of 2007 and threatened Greece, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Italy, France and Cyprus with court action if they fail to prove they have not been overfishing.