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Bluefin Symposium Celebrates Conservation Gains While Urging Continued Action

Once fished to the point of collapse, the population of Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna has experienced several years of growth after fishery managers took critical steps to address the illegal fishing and overfishing that plagued the industry and depleted the stock in the 1990s and early 2000s.

This is a positive story in the heavily fished Mediterranean Sea. However, there is still essential work needed to secure these gains and the long-term sustainability of the stock. It is now time to move to a new phase of transparent, science-based management designed to achieve a long-term vision for the species, and the fisheries it supports, as well as win the fight against the illegal fishing trade. This will require a concerted effort by scientists, fishery managers, and industry.
 
This is all according to expert panelists and industry members that convened this week during an online discussion on The Future of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna: Fisheries, Management, and the Market. Over 220 people -- from the Iberian Coast to North Africa, Great Britain, Belgium, and the United States -- tuned in over the course of two days (3-4 Feb) to multi-hour stakeholder discussions on the scientific state of the eastern bluefin tuna stock, market trends and opportunities, the impact of illegal fishing, harvest strategies, and more. The event was co-hosted by WWF and The Pew Charitable Trusts. 
 
Jean-Marc Fromentin, former chair of the Bluefin Tuna Assessment Group within the International Convention for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), and senior researcher at IFREMER (France), summed up the week's conversations in the following way: “Knowledge has progressed a lot in the last decades but bluefin tuna still keep many secrets. We are eager to continue to discover these causes of changes in the species' migrations and the stock/species productivity.”
 
One new management approach for the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin called for this week is the adoption of a "harvest strategy" for the stock. A harvest strategy features pre-agreed rules for how many fish can be caught based on population abundance. “Harvest strategy adoption has the potential to provide more safety for the bluefin resource, more stability for industry, and greater management efficiency," explained Dr. Doug Butterworth, emeritus Professor at the University of Cape Town (South Africa). 
 
Bertrand Swiderski, Head of Sustainability at Carrefour Group, highlighted the crucial role of consumers in supporting seafood sustainability. By offering consumers the possibility to choose sustainably sourced products, companies like Carrefour can have a real impact on species conservation and the preservation of the environment. 
 
During panel discussions on both days, industry and market leaders also recommended new and improved controls to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Investigative journalist, Marcos Garcia Rey, highlighted the complexities of managing a species when IUU fishing is taking place, “When we talk about illegal fishing of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, we are talking about a systemic problem that continues to this day, regardless of the health of the natural resource. Illegal actions affect not only the animal itself and the environment, but also many other aspects of society. The black market in bluefin tuna is involved in various types of crime such as money laundering, corruption, offences against public health, free competition and public finances, among others. The black money generated by illegal bluefin tuna fishing also feeds back into the creation of more resources for these illicit activities. These are powerful reasons for our eyes to remain vigilant, whether we are journalists, activists, politicians or scientists.”
 
Market stakeholder Yet Bertrand Wendling, CEO of the French Producers Organization SATHOAN (France), also highlighted the complexity and globalization of the bluefin tuna trade. “In order not to fall back into the excesses of the past, we need to maintain a high level of controls at sea and on land,” he explained.  “Illegal fishing inevitably leads to a fall in market prices due to unfair competition, whereas we – as a fishing cooperative but also from a sustainability perspective – must make it possible to maintain a high added value of the product, to ensure coherent management of small-scale coastal fishing. Fish less but sell better.” added Wendling.
 
In his closing remarks, MEP Pierre Karleskind (France), Chair of the EU Fisheries Committee made an important call, "We have made progress. But EU stakeholders and officials need to stay on the narrow path towards sustainable bluefin."

More on WWF's work on Bluefin tuna.
Atlantic bluefin tuna shoal, Malta