Thursday, September 10, 2009

Should all sushi be banned to save the bluefin tuna? The EU thinks so!

Okay, technically the European Union isn't saying that sushi should be banned. But the EU has recommended listing bluefin tuna as an endangered species. And that could eventually mean that trade of the tuna most used in sushi does get banned. Which means we might all have to live with eating eel.

Most marine scientists agree that many fish species are severely over-fished. This had led to stocks so low that populations are no longer sustainable. Scientific advisors to the EU this week warned EU ministers of collapsing stocks of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea and the larger Atlantic Ocean. And with the EU behind banning trade of the delectable fish, it is highly likely that the same will happen next March at the next CITES meeting. For those who aren't familiar with it, CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, and is an international agreement between governments. According to its web site, its "aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival."

Not everyone agrees, of course. It should come as no surprise that Japan is actively lobbying to keep the current restrictions in place. These restrictions are much less onerous, something obviously more to the liking of a country that imports about 80% of the bluefin tuna retrieved in waters of the EU (not to mention elsewhere). Spain, Italy and Malta, all with large bluefin fisheries, are also not happy with the idea of any restrictions. On the flip side, several EU members, including France, the UK and the Netherlands, have publicly supported ending or suspending the fishing of bluefin tuna. In the end, the EU, however, votes as a block at CITES - fully 25% of the votes - so it is difficult for any one country to overturn a ban.

The EU’s position isn't final though, and may be revised pending additional information related to ongoing conservation efforts due later this year. And while the environmental unit of the Commission is strongly in favor of a complete ban, the Commission's fisheries unit is not keen on introducing additional regulation that could hurt the EU's fishing industry. Some argue that if the conservation efforts solve the over-fishing problem, a complete trade ban might not be necessary. In any case, the decision will be made in March 2010.

According to the European Commission's position paper, “[f]rom a scientific and technical point of view, the criteria for the listing of Atlantic bluefin tuna [as an endangered species] appear to be met...There is no doubt about the link between international trade and overexploitation of the species.”

Given my own marine fisheries experience, sometimes you have to just say no to fishing.

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