Originally published at Project Groundswell.
The U.N. panel that oversees the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) has declared that the export of Atlantic bluefin tuna should be banned in order to save the species from possible extinction.
"In our opinion, the criteria for including the species in appendix 1 are met and international commercial trade in bluefin tuna should be prohibited," David Morgan, head of CITES scientific unit, told a news briefing.
Bluefin tuna, prized in sushi restaurants worldwide, fetch high prices in international markets, with individual fish having sold for over $150,000 in Japan. Japan, which imports more that 80% of the the bluefin tuna caught in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, is opposed to listing the bluefin as endangered and is expected to put up a fierce fight at the next CITES meeting in Doha in March.
Bluefin have been decimated in recent years by overfishing in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. In 2009, over 50,000 tons of bluefin were harvested, well above the sustainable recommended levels.
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the body charged with managing Atlantic tuna, has failed to halt the decline of the bluefin tuna. Official quotas for 2009 was 19,950 tons, with illegal and unreported catch adding an additional 30,000 tons to the total. ICCAT's own scientific body has recommended a maximum sustainable catch level of 15,000 tons to allow the species to recover.
Today, the French government said that it would support a ban but only after an 18 month delay in order to "study the data on tuna stocks", and wants aid for retraining laid-off fisherman. Other European nations oppose a ban, likely due to the influence of powerful fishing lobbies.
Unfortunately for the bluefin tuna, more delay would only imperil the species further. If nations and fishermen continue to push the species toward collapse, there won't be an bluefin to catch.
See also: Richard Ellis: Q & A for more on the tuna and its precarious survival.