Far more bluefin sold than reported caught: report

October 18, 2011 by Marlowe Hood
Fishmongers check bluefin tuna before an auction. More than twice as many tonnes of Atlantic bluefin tuna were sold last year compared with official catch records for this threatened species, according to a report released on Tuesday.

More than twice as many tonnes of Atlantic bluefin tuna were sold last year compared with official catch records for this threatened species, according to a report released on Tuesday.

This "bluefin gap" occurred despite enhanced reporting and enforcement measures introduced in 2008 by the 48-member International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which sets annual quotas by country, it said.

Trade figures showed that real catches of bluefin in 2009 and 2010 totaled more than 70,500 tonnes, twice ICCAT's tally for those two years, according to the report compiled by Washington-based Pew .

"The current paper-based catch documentation system is plagued with fraud, and delays in reporting," said Roberto Mielgo, a former industry insider and author of the report. "Much more needs to be done."

Before 2010, ICCAT systematically set fishing quotas substantially higher than the recommendations of its own , which had warned repeatedly that stocks were in danger of crashing.

In 2010, the target -- 12,900 tonnes for fish caught in the Mediterranean and Northeastern Atlantic -- fell for the first time within the panel's recommended range.

But the new report implies the industry has circumvented the catch limits and tougher compliance measures.

"This (catch) gap exists mainly because of in the ranching industry," Mielgo told AFP.

He referred to the practice of netting young wild tuna in the Mediterranean and then corralling them for fattening, a system he helped to pioneer.

"Essentially, more bluefin tuna are harvested from the ranches than initially reported when they are first transferred there."

About 70 percent of the bluefin caught in the Mediterranean are netted by industrial purse-seine vessels with vast, sack-like nets that encircle tuna as they gather to spawn.

The Pew study says that reported catch for bluefin tuna from 1998 to 2010 was 395,554 tonnes.

By comparison, market figures for this period show 491,265 tonnes, leaving leaving a gap of nearly 100,000 tonnes worth some two billion euros (2.7 billion dollars) at wholesale prices.

These figures do not include what experts say is a sizeable black market in bluefin, along with fish that has been mislabeled as another species.

Japan consumes 80 percent of the gleaming fatty fish, with American appetites accounting for another nine percent.

Pew and other environmental groups have called for the swift implementation of electronic tagging of fish to replace paper-based records, which they say are vulnerable to fraud.

A new electronic system "should include a real-time reporting requirement and central database, which would allow information from ranches and vessels to be cross-checked instantly," said Lee Crockett, head of Pew's bluefin task force.

ICCAT has committed in principle to such measures, but the timetable for implementation and funding have yet to be settled.

This year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the reference agency for species conservation, declared to be "endangered" and "susceptible to collapse under continued excessive fishing pressure".

Explore further: Battle lines emerge in bluefin tuna battle

Related Stories

Battle lines emerge in bluefin tuna battle

November 18, 2010

A meeting on the fate of the Atlantic bluefin tuna got into its stride on Thursday as Europe mulled a call for a modest cut in catches and Japan said it would propose a fishing ban on nations that cheat.

Overfishing may lead to tuna extinction

November 18, 2005

Some scientists fear the bluefin tuna, Japan's unofficial national dish, is being caught in such numbers its commercial extinction is looming.

Study: Tuna black market worth billions of dollars

November 7, 2010

The craze for sushi has fueled a black market in tuna worth billions of dollars, as governments collaborate with the industry despite fears for the species' survival, an investigation found.

Overfishing threatens European bluefin tuna

November 7, 2008

Bluefin tuna disappeared from Danish waters in the 1960s. Now the species could become depleted throughout the northeast Atlantic and Mediterranean, according to analyses by the Technical University of Denmark (DTU Aqua) ...

Recommended for you

Cells lacking nuclei struggle to move in 3-D environments

January 20, 2018

University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers have revealed new details of how the physical properties of the nucleus influence how cells can move around different environments - such as ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.