The Commission today decided to close the fishery for bluefin tuna in the Eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean for 2007. On the basis of the catch returns received from the Member States to date, the EU 2007 quota for bluefin tuna of 16,779.5 tonnes has been exhausted. The Commission must therefore close the whole EU fishery. This closure concerns Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Portugal and Spain as the other two Member States involved, Italy and France, closed their own fisheries in July and August respectively. The Commission has noted failings in the reporting of catch data necessary to monitor the uptake of the EU quota in real time. It shortly intends to take measures against such failings. The Commission will also come forward with measures in time for the 2008 fishery to prevent the problems experienced this year.
Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Joe Borg commented: “Clearly there are problems both of over fishing a stock already threatened with collapse and of equity between the Member States concerned. As is its duty, the Commission will do all it can to address these issues urgently.”
Seven EU Member States are involved in the fishery for bluefin tuna, namely Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain. The EU quota of 16,779.5 tonnes was allocated by ICCAT (The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) at a meeting in Tokyo in January and divided between the Member States concerned using an agreed allocation key (see IP/07/257 and MEMO/07/85), Italy closed its fishery on 24 July and France closed its fishery on 27 August. It is apparent that the total EU quota has effectively been exhausted. The Commission must therefore close the whole fishery for EU vessels.
In the case of Member States which have not yet caught their quota, there are provisions in EU legislation to compensate the parties concerned in subsequent years. Mechanisms also exist in EU rules for deduction of over fished quota by the Member States concerned. As regards the overall EU quota, the ICCAT recovery plan contains a payback mechanism for parties which over fish. The ICCAT compliance committee meets in November, to establish final catch figures for all contracting parties for the 2007 season. Once ICCAT decides on the action to be taken on quota overshooting, the Commission will make its own proposal for payback and compensation within the EU. The Commission will seek to ensure that any Member State that is penalised by this early closure of the 2007 fishery will be compensated in future fishing possibilities.
It is vital to prevent over fishing to ensure that the recovery plan is implemented fully and effectively by all the EU Member States concerned. In particular, this will mean more timely and reliable reporting of actual catch figures by the Commission. Besides the timely adoption of the regulation which will definitively transpose the ICCAT Recovery Plan into EU law (see MEX/07/0403), the Commission will be looking at measures to ensure that the Member States respect the ‘real time reporting’ requirements contained in the plan, on the basis of the five-day catch report which must be completed by the masters of all fishing vessels.
The Commission will continue and extend the unannounced visits by its own inspectors to landing ports and farms, and will actively seek to improve the exchange of information between fisheries administrators both between Member States, and with other ICCAT contracting parties, in particular with regard to the transfer of tuna to fattening cages. A high priority will also be placed on the ICCAT scheme for joint international inspections at sea. Importing countries, in particular Japan, will be asked to refuse imports which are not shown to comply fully with ICCAT measures.
The eastern stock of bluefin tuna (Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean) has been over fished for many years, and scientists have repeatedly warned of the danger of collapse if nothing was done to dramatically reduce the level of fishing activity. In particular, high rates of undeclared over fishing have been singled out as a key cause of the decline of the stock.
As bluefin tuna is a highly migratory species, the fisheries are managed within the framework of ICCAT. The EU is an active member of ICCAT, and played a leading role in the adoption of a new 15-year recovery plan for eastern bluefin tuna last November at the ICCAT annual meeting in Dubrovnik (see IP/06/1632).
A key achievement of that plan was the establishment of a rigorous and comprehensive new control and enforcement scheme, designed to combat over fishing, which, by definition, is illegal fishing. The Commission attaches great importance to the successful implementation of the recovery plan in general, and of the control scheme in particular, and calls on the Member States involved in the fishery to cooperate among themselves and other ICCAT parties and with the Commission to prevent the over fishing which threatens the survival of one of Europe’s oldest and richest fisheries.