November 11, 2011 / 6:47 PM / 8 years ago

EU seeks to protect Mediterranean tuna, swordfish

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union has put forward tougher measures to protect dwindling stocks of tuna and swordfish in the Atlantic and Mediterranean that it hopes will be agreed at international talks over the coming week.

Workers cut the head of an Atlantic bluefin tuna on a fishing vessel on the Mediterranean sea, near Garrucha, southern Spanish province of Almeria, March 25, 2010. Delegates at a conference of the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Doha rejected a proposal to ban trade in bluefin tuna. REUTERS/Francisco Bonilla

The bloc wants to maintain an existing limit of 12,900 tonnes for bluefin tuna catches, to introduce a stricter approach to deter illegal fishing and to be able to trace bluefin tuna throughout the market chain, an EU spokesman said.

EU Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki, who has staked her reputation on reversing decades of over-exploitation in the fisheries sector, wrote to the chairman of the talks taking place in Istanbul to press her case, a statement said.

In her letter, she said the EU would propose an initiative to consolidate and improve scientific advice and incentives for fishermen to submit the catch data required to assess stocks accurately.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) began an annual meeting Friday that will continue until November 19.

“This is a step forward,” said Sergi Tudela, fisheries coordinator based in Barcelona for the WWF, of the EU stance, but added it was “still very early” to say whether a strong agreement would be reached.

For the fishermen, financial incentives to catch as many bluefin as possible are compelling, and fleet sizes in excess of the proposed quota limits also raise the temptation for overfishing, campaigners say.

The Atlantic bluefin can grow to the size of an average horse, accelerate faster than a sports car and fetch prices starting on average at around 10,000 euros ($13,735), WWF said. It can reach 10 times that figure in Japan, where it is prized by sushi-lovers.

In a statement, the WWF said reports had suggested illegal and unreported fishing was widespread in the Mediterranean, particularly in Libyan waters and also in Italy.

Discussion will also focus on other species, including swordfish and sharks, and measures to protect seabirds that can be caught accidentally.

“We are very concerned about the lack of a management plan for Mediterranean swordfish. Probably this is one of the main gaps in ICCAT in terms of an important stock which is severely depleted,” Tudela added.

Reporting by Barbara Lewis and Christopher Le Coq, editing by Jane Baird

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