Bluefin tuna, WWF Conservation, Portugal

Know Before You Go

WWF Conservation | The Battle for the Bluefin

Not long ago, it looked as if the magnificent Atlantic bluefin tuna would disappear forever from the Mediterranean. The population was crashing in the face of huge overfishing, and the remaining stocks were being badly mismanaged as authorities ignored the warnings of experts and the industry continued to catch as many fish as it could. Fishing communities watched as their livelihoods disappeared, and conservationists worried that the species might even become extinct.

The situation seemed hopeless – but today, things are different. The population is recovering, and a healthy future for the greatest of all our fish is a possibility. In fact, the scientific committee advising the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is suggesting that fishing quotas for bluefin tuna stocks in the Mediterranean should be drastically increased.

WWF is very concerned. These same scientists warn that the proposed quotas will reduce the size of the bluefin population. So soon after rescuing this wonderful fish from extinction, it seems unwise to take any risks when we're so near recovery. This could be one of the biggest conservation victories ever achieved in our region – but if we don't act carefully now, there's still a chance we could lose all the progress we've made.

THE CAMPAIGN

Over ten years ago, WWF helped to launch a remarkable campaign. Several very different groups came together with a common purpose: to save the Atlantic bluefin tuna. By combining our efforts and sharing our resources, maybe we could persuade ICCAT to put proper conservation measures into place – but we all knew that this was our last chance.

ICCAT listened and adopted a rigorous recovery plan. It set rules on total allowable catches, the length of the season, minimum size, bycatch management and recreational fisheries. It also brought in far more effective monitoring, control and reporting measures.
WWF's involvement focused on three particular areas: bringing parties together, science and advocacy.

We've always been good at bringing different groups together for dialogue: we're equally at ease on boats and in boardrooms, and if a government ministry wants to reach out to a village fishing cooperative, then we often act as a go-between. With the Bluefin campaign, we've been front and center throughout, and our eye-catching adverts took our message to the world.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The situation for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean today is potentially good – the stock is recovering, but it's not there yet, and we're at a crucial point in the process.

Some policymakers look at the success of the recovery plan and understand the importance of continuing it. Others look at it and believe the work is already done. But if we abandon the recovery plan and raise quotas too quickly, as is proposed, we could lose all the progress we've made.

Today, the stock is well managed and there are reliable monitoring and control systems in place, but we need a strong and sustainable stock management plan for the future – and finding a consensus is a complex operation. Scientific advice on quotas has to be balanced with political pressure from fishing nations who want to increase their catch, and at the moment we're very concerned by the risk that ICCATT will set limits that are too high for a sustainable future. Experts still aren't sure we know enough about the rate at which the stocks will reproduce to guarantee that they're secure, and it seems obvious that any proposals that will actually reduce the number of bluefin tuna in the water are bad proposals.

WWF is talking to everybody involved, promoting dialogue between scientists, politicians, policymakers, retailers and fishers: it's essential to make sensible decisions that work for everybody, and those decisions have to promote healthy stocks now and in the future. Short-term profit can't be more important than long-term sustainability.

Markets make a big difference, and this is another area we're working on. WWF wants to see an increased focus on small-scale bluefin tuna fisheries, which can help regenerate traditional coastal communities around the Mediterranean. However, small-scale doesn't necessarily mean low impact, so it's extremely important that these fisheries are carefully monitored and managed.

There's been an enormous amount of excellent work done to save the bluefin tuna, and if we can keep up our efforts for a little while longer then there's every chance that we'll be able to leave a healthy population of this wonderful fish as a legacy.

We're going to keep fighting for bluefin tuna—and it's a fight we intend to win once and for all.
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