Italy, France push to overturn tuna fishing ban
25 June 2008, European Voice

European Commission keeps ban in place, accusing France and Italy of under-reporting and overfishing.
A sometimes heated meeting of EU fisheries ministers ended yesterday with the European Commission insisting that a ban on the fishing of bluefin tuna would and should remain in place.  At the ministerial meeting, which was held in Luxembourg, both Italy and France questioned Commission figures that indicate that stocks of bluefin tuna fish in the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic are dangerously depleted. According to a Commission spokesperson, Italy also threatened go to the EU’s highest court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), in an effort to overturn the Commission’s ban, which came into force on 16 June.

Joe Borg, the European commissioner for fisheries, not only insisted that the Commission’s figures were accurate, “inviting” Italian and French ministers to inspect the numbers in the coming days, but also accused the French of under-reporting catches and the Italians of allowing some trawlers to massively exceed their quotas.

Borg said the French had failed to declare all of their hauls of tuna fish and said there had been “countless failures” by the French authorities to implement rules intended to ensure that stocks of bluefin tuna are managed sustainably.  The commissioner said he had data that indicated, for example, that eight French trawlers that had spent around 21 days at sea without, so far, registering any fish catches. Furthermore, some Italian vessels have exceeded their quotas by between 100% and 240%, Borg added. 

Borg also attacked the French and Italian fishing fleets for using spotter plans to track shoals of tuna, a practice outlawed under the terms of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.

The ban affects fishing in the waters of six EU states – Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain – but, because the ban specifically applies to fishing trawlers with large ‘purse seine’ nets, the French and Italian fishing industries are more affected than some others, such as Malta.

The timing of the ban – at the start of the fishing season – has amplified its effect. Borg defended the decision, which brought the tuna fishing season to a close three months earlier than a similar ban did in 2007, because he did not want a repeat of the situation last year, when tuna catches exceeded international quotas by 25%.

Bluefin tuna is a much-prized fish, in particular by the Japanese, who use the fish for sushi. A single tuna can fetch up to $100,000 on the world’s most important tuna market, the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.  However, stocks in European waters have declined by 90% since the 1970s, prompting scientists to classify the two-metre-long fish as critically endangered.

by  Zoë Casey