MEPs backed new international measures to further reduce illegal catches of bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean, in a vote on Wednesday aimed at ensuring more sustainable development of stocks. They also called for more advice on the identification of spawning grounds and the creation of sanctuaries.
The new rules, which focus chiefly on reducing the size of fishing fleets, extending closed seasons for purse seiners and beefing up controls, were agreed at the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) in November 2010. The EU, as a contracting party to ICCAT, is obliged to incorporate its recommendations into EU law.
"The new rules must be implemented quickly now that the bluefin fishing season has just opened. While taking a step in the right direction, I regret that the rules fall far short of following scientific advice. This is a missed opportunity to bring bluefin back from the brink", said Raül Romeva i Rueda (Greens/EFA, ES) who steered the new legislation through Parliament.
Better controls to avoid illegal catches
The new recovery plan for bluefin tuna will reinforce controls, including those related to transfers of tuna from nets to cages. Each caging operation will have to be video-recorded. If the number or weight of bluefin tuna is found by the regional observer to be more than 10% greater than that declared by the farm operator responsible for fattening the fish, the excess fish will have to be released.
Member states will be required to ensure that their national observers cover all their active purse seiner catching vessels of less than 20m in 2012. For bigger purse seiners, an ICCAT regional observer will be engaged. Previously, only 20% of purse seiners were covered.
Fewer vessels ...
Under the new rules, member states targeting bluefin tuna will have until the beginning of 2013 to bring their fishing fleets into line with the quota allocated to them. In 2010, Member States were obliged to eliminate only 25% of the discrepancy between their fishing capacity and their allocated quotas.
Furthermore, the fishing season for purse seiners will be cut from two months to one, running from 15 May to 15 June.
... catching less fish
The new recovery plan also reduces the international total allowable catches (TACs) of bluefin tuna from 13,500 tonnes to 12,900 tonnes. Accordingly, the TACs allocated to the EU were reduced from 7,113.15 in 2010 to 5,756.41 tonnes. This restriction already entered into force in 2011.
The new rules were approved by 635 votes to 16, with 11 abstentions. The regulation will enter into force once it has been endorsed by the Council.
Procedure: Co-decision, 1st reading