Saving Mediterranean Bluefin Tuna from Extinction

Summary

The main goal of the project is to halt the decline of the bluefin tuna stock and to initiate its recovery. The project will adopt a 3-pronged approach, addressing fishing methods, consumer awareness and lobbying of national governments.

Background

Bluefin tuna have been overfished for decades, leading to a spectacular decline of the population. Despite awareness of the problem, overfishing continues and poor management of fishing practices means the population is at real risk of complete collapse.

This project has 3 different but complementary approaches which aim to prevent the imminent collapse of this species.

1) Work with tuna traps (almadrabas) in Spain, the only intrinsically sustainable fishing gear, to establish a labelling system which will affect the Japanese and European markets. At the same time, work with retailers, sushi restaurants and buyer companies in Japan and Europe to set out the basis for the responsible consumption of bluefin tuna.

2) Work with national governments in the Mediterranean, the European Commission, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) and the Barcelona Convention, as appropriate, to ensure the creation of a High Seas Bluefin Tuna Sanctuary protecting one of the remaining spawning aggregations.

3) Develop a positive campaign addressed to all bluefin tuna quota holding states which are members of ICCAT, aimed at the allocation of 50% of their quotas for conservation purposes (“no-fishing quota”).

The launch of the campaign will be marked by a scientific campaign involving the live catch (either using tuna traps or hiring a purse seine vessel), measurement, scientific tagging and release to the wild of bluefin tuna, in one of the most massive tagging events ever implemented in the Mediterranean. This will be undertaken in partnership with the appropriate fishing and scientific institutions. In addition to conventional tagging, 15 fish will be provided with special satellite-based pop-up tags. Tagging data will provide precious biological information to be used for scientific and communication purposes.

This data will improve the accuracy of the management measures recommended by scientists. Indicators of these results will be the level of demand of certified bluefin tuna in the market, and the amount of eggs and larvae obtained from research surveys in the spawning areas.

Objectives

- Implementation of a labelling system for the main bluefin tuna buyer countries, giving consumers a real option for sustainable consumption.

- Creation of a High Seas Bluefin Tuna Sanctuary, which will help to protect the last remaining spawners and thus guarantee its reproduction in the future.

- Undertake tagging experiment in the Mediterranean to fill the gap in the available data sources and contribute to the knowledge of the biology of this species, especially in relation to the widely unknown patterns of migration of the central and eastern Mediterranean bluefin tuna.

- Raise public awareness of the overfishing problem and influence the way the stock is currently managed.

Solution

1) Certification of tuna traps production and sustainable bluefin tuna consumption

Year 1: Start of the pre-assessment process of the trap fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Provide assistance in order to ensure the full traceability of the product from the trap net to final consumers in Japanese and other markets.
Year 2: Achieve commitments from selected retailers, restaurants and buyers to buy fully traceable bluefin tuna from tuna traps, and publicize it.
Year 3: Actively contribute to the promotion of sustainably fished bluefin tuna in the market and encourage other fishermen to join. Media work on sustainable consumption of bluefin tuna and available choices in the market.

2) Creation of a High Seas Bluefin Tuna Sanctuary

Year 1: Gather scientific evidence for the creation of the sanctuary to effectively protect one of the remaining breeding areas in the Mediterranean.
Year 2: Bilateral contacts with national and international authorities in order to ensure the support for the creation of the sanctuary.
Year 3: Formally table the proposal for the sanctuary at international fora in charge of the management of fisheries activities in the Mediterranean.

3) Scientific tagging and release to the wild of bluefin tuna

Year 1: Establish partnership with a responsible tuna fishing country, the industry and appropriate research teams for the measurement, tagging and release live of a significant number of fish (several tonnes, worth a significant share of a small ICCAT quota).
Year 2: Implement tagging-and-release event and develop advocacy campaign for setting 50% of national quotas apart for conservation purposes and other more astringent management rules.
Year 3: Evaluation of the tagging data and its use for scientific and communication purposes.