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Deal to limit Atlantic bluefin tuna catches not good enough, say environmentalists

November 17, 2009 |  9:33 pm

Bluefin tuna

BRUSSELS – Environmentalists on Monday said an international deal to reduce catches of Atlantic bluefin tuna didn't go far enough to protect the species from extinction.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas decided at a meeting Sunday in Brazil to limit 2010 catch quotas to 13,500 tons to prevent overfishing of the much sought-after tuna, the European Union said.

The commission sets annual fishing limits in an effort to save the fish stock from extinction.

Signatory countries had previously agreed to cut catches from 28,500 tons to 22,000 this year, but scientists and environmental groups argued a total ban was needed to salvage a viable tuna stock.

"Only a zero catch limit could have maximized the chances that Atlantic bluefin tuna could recover to the point where the fishery could exist in the future," said Susan Lieberman, from the Pew Environment Group.

Raul Romeva, who sits on the European Parliament's fisheries committee, said European delegates to the Brazil meeting "deserve to be condemned" for agreeing to continue fishing the sushi favorite.

The European Union's fisheries commissioner, Joe Borg, said the cuts would "mark decisive progress in managing and conserving" the bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and Atlantic.

"Our goal is to ensure the return to a healthy bluefin tuna stock and a viable and sustainable fishery for our fleet," he said in a statement.

EU nations have been divided on how to protect dwindling tuna stocks off their coasts.

Mediterranean members Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Italy, France and Spain blocked an attempt by the European Commission in September to impose a temporary ban on catching tuna.

Stocks of the bluefin species have been in steady decline for years with Japan taking some 80% of bluefin exports to satisfy demands for the finest raw fish ingredient.

The tuna's uncertain status has driven up prices and prompted fishermen to sidestep stringent quotas to fish illegally for big profits.

— Associated Press

Photo: Captive bluefin tuna inside a transport cage.  Credit: Gavin Newman / European Pressphoto Agency

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