The fate of blue fin tuna hangs in the balance this week as a complete ban on the trade is debated by MEPs. Ahead of a meeting of the Convention for the Protection of Endangered Species (CITES) the European Union must thrash out a position on whether to support a ban proposed by Monaco. The Union is divided although recently two key states, France and Italy, have swung around behind stopping the trade. The debate on Tuesday will be crucial to establishing a consensus.
Blue fin tuna has been fished for millennia although scientific data has shown that between 1997-2007 stocks in the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean declined by 60%.
About three quarters of all Atlantic Tuna ends up on the plates of Japanese restaurants and homes as sushi and sashimi. Blue fin tuna is the most popular and endanged species of tuna.
The role of the UN body CITES is to regulate trade in animal and plants that are endangered. The fate of polar bears, African elephants and tigers will also be discussed when its 175 members meet in Doha in March. The European Commission, which runs EU fisheries policy, has already recommended adding blue fin tuna to the CITES list.
"All or nothing decision"
The Chair of Parliament's Environment Committee, German Socialist Jo Leinen told us that "blue fin tuna is seriously under threat of extinction. The EU needs to act quickly and stand up for a temporary trade ban at the CITES conference in Qatar".
Speaking ahead of the debate Saskia Richartz of Greenpeace commented: "This is an all or nothing decision: either we save the blue fin now or we almost certainly condemn the species to extinction”.
However, Mourad Kahoul of the Euro-Mediterranean Professional Fishers of Tuna Association said: "The biological criteria of CITES necessary to integrate blue fin tuna into the list of endangered species have not been met. Including blue fin tuna on the list of endangered species would be an irresponsible act by European policy makers".
Small scale fishing still possible with ban
If the trade is listed by CITES as being prohibited then only small-scale tuna fisheries would be allowed - such as tuna traps, with the produce still being sold.
Watch the debate live online from Strasbourg Tuesday afternoon from 1500 CET .