ICCAT Outcome "Predictable"

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ICCAT Outcome "Predictable"

Bluefin Quotas Go Down Slightly; Marlin and Swordfish Agreements Extended; Sharks and Turtles Get New Protections

12/2/10  The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), meeting in Paris, France November 16-27, held the line on conservation measures for bluefin tuna, disappointing those who wanted to see quotas increased on both sides of the Atlantic, or bigger catch reductions across the board.

The scientific advice this year was ambiguous enough to allow stakeholders to rationalize either position. But the 48-nation commission clearly felt enormous pressure not to raise quotas in the wake of an unsuccessful but broadly-backed bid earlier this year to get bluefin declared an endangered species and ban international trade.

Instead, ICCAT opted for token reductions that amount to maintaining the status quo. The total allowable catch of bluefin in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean was set at 12,900 metric tons, a 4% decrease from the current level of 13,500 tons, set a year ago to avert the endangered listing. In the western Atlantic, where the United States fishes, the quota was reduced 3%, from 1,800 to 1,750 tons.

"Given the scientific advice the commission received this year, which showed slight improvement in both bluefin stocks since the last assessment in 2008, status quo was a predictable outcome," notes NCMC president Ken Hinman, who served on the U.S. delegation in Paris. "But because of the acknowledged uncertainties surrounding that assessment, coupled with the depleted state of the stocks, the National Coalition for Marine Conservation supported far more precautionary catch limits."

ICCAT extended current conservation agreements for swordfish and blue and white marlin through 2011. "The marlins must await a new stock assessment before ICCAT revises the conservation program," says Hinman, "but further reductions in the longline fisheries were put on the table this year, and they will be fully considered next year."

The situation for north Atlantic swordfish, on the other hand, is troublesome. The commission once again postponed decisions about how to allocate the newly rebuilt stock among traditional fishing nations, including the U.S., and developing countries - without overfishing. The allowable catch was kept at 13,700 tons, which gives the stock a 50% chance of staying at a sustainable level, but individual country quotas add up to 15,345 t which, if caught, would put the swordfish catch 10% above the overfishing limit.

Progress was made on less controversial issues, namely shark and sea turtle conservation. ICCAT countries agreed to record and report all fishery interactions with turtles by species and to take measures to avoid them and release them alive if caught accidentally. Landing oceanic whitetip and hammerhead sharks caught in ICCAT fisheries was prohibited, and short-fin mako sharks will benefit from a new agreement that sets the stage for future management, which is important because makos are targeted by ICCAT countries. Countries not submitting data on shark catches will be prohibited from retaining them after 2012, when science-based catch levels will be adopted.

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