Italy has banned its high-technology fishing fleet from fishing for bluefin tuna this year. The decision, announced before the month-long fishing season began last weekend, means that 49 large purse-seine vessels capable of rounding up whole shoals of endangered bluefin will remain in port. The Italian catch quota is being given to “artisanal” vessels, fishing with long-lines.
Fishermen from the purse-seiners, who have tended to fish using spotter planes so they can catch the maximum amount of tuna, will be paid unemployment benefit.
A large number of skippers will receive nearly £5 million in compensation for decommissioning their vessels, with 30 out of the 49 being decommissioned by the end of this year.
Rumour has it that fishermen were content to stop fishing not only because they were paid handsomely to do so but because the local sub-stock of bluefin has disappeared from the fishing grounds.
EU eyes have been pointed on the Italian fleet, with a much smaller bluefin quota this year and the authorities are understood to have been wary of provoking legal action by getting into illegal fishing scandals like those which dogged the industry in 2007 and 2008.
The environmental group WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund, said Italy’s decision in tackling the bluefin’s decline should be seen as a good example which other countries should follow.
Dr Sergi Tudela of WWF Mediterranean said: “Italy’s decision to keep its purse seiners ashore is to be applauded and upheld as an example to follow.”
“Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks cannot resist for much longer – by all accounts the species is endangered, with current populations dwindling at less than 15 per cent of what they once were. Nevertheless this year fleets are sanctioned to catch another 13,500 tonnes of fish, even when the rules are still widely violated.”
“WWF calls on ICCAT – the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, the regional management organization in charge of the Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery – and its members to respect their commitments to sustainable fisheries management.”
“A sound recovery plan for the exhausted species must finally be imposed when ICCAT meets in Paris in November – including above all a dramatic cut in catches to well below 8,000 tonnes.”
The latest advice from renowned international scientists shows that an annual catch of 8,000 tonnes would give the Atlantic bluefin tuna at best a 50 per cent chance of recovery.