The breeding population of bluefin tuna in the Eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean has collapsed, in what may come to be seen as one of the world’s most spectacular ecological disasters, according to an independent report.
- The 2008 bluefin tuna dossier - Advanced Tuna Ranching Technologies [pdf of the full report by Roberto Mielgo]
The destruction of stocks of one of the world’s most expensive fish, already recognised as being as endangered as the giant panda, effectively took place in 2007, more than twice the legal catch was taken by Mediterranean fishermen under the eyes of EU and UN-recognised officials, according to the report.If the analysis of the size and weight of tuna now passing through the Japanese market is representative of what remains in the sea, according to the report, the EU and other Atlantic nations have presided over disaster comparable to that of the collapse of the blue whale or the Northern cod.
Environmentalists blame the final destruction of what was the largest population of a fish which is known to have been hunted for 7,000 years on a catastrophic failure of governance by the EU and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).
Rampant illegal fishing with spotter aircraft, fast power-boats and the full modern hi-tech arsenal of fishing technology has hastened the decline.
A-list diners, including Charlize Theron, Sting and Elle Macpherson signed a letter of protest last week to Nobu Matsuhisa, the world-famous fushion chef, threatening to boycott his restaurants unless he takes the endangered bluefin tuna off the menu.
According to the latest report, released to coincide with World Oceans Day by the independent consultant Roberto Mielgo, 70 per cent of the bluefin tuna in the Japanese market between July 1 last year and May 1 this year were below 90 kilos in weight.
Some 33 per cent of the tunas on the Japanese market were below the legal size of 30 kg when caught – a major indictment of the inspection regime run by Mediterranean countries under the supervision of ICCAT.
Mr Mielgo said: “If this analysis of what is on the Japanese auction markets corresponds to what is left in the sea, we are in deep trouble. It means the adult bluefins are no longer there. If that is what is at sea, the stock will not recoup.
“My view is that the stock collapsed in 2007 as a result of the 2007 fishing season in which 61,000 tons of bluefin were caught. The fishery should have been closed in 2007.”
The 61,000 tons recorded in official catch figures in 2007 was twice the legal quota agreed by EU nations and ICCAT, four times what scientists advised was responsible and six times what ICCAT’s own scientists said was needed for the recovery of the stock.
Ten years ago, the majority of bluefin tuna in the Japanese market were medium-sized mature adults of 120 kgs or more and the stock structure wholly different to what it is now. Now a third of it is below the minimum landing size and causing concern even among Japanese tuna traders who dislike selling small fish.
Mr Mielgo’s report concludes: “The massive presence in the Japanese market of juvenile bluefin tunas having been illegally caught and farmed points to the failure of current control schemes, including the credibility of observers filling in caging declarations.”
Mr Mielgo is a tuna farmer turned whistle-blower. The report by his consultancy, Advanced Tuna Ranching Technologies, goes even further than trends presented earlier this year by WWF using official figures which showed that the population of breeding tuna in 2007 was only a quarter of that 50 years ago.
According to WWF’s analysis, the bluefin breeding population will disappear by 2012 under the current fishing regime. It called for the immediate closure of the fishery.
Mr Mielgo’s report says the age-profile of tunas on the Japanese market “is consistent with the hypothesis of an on-going collapse of the breeding population of this stock.”
He added: “It’s not that I am a pessimist. There is no way this population is going to pick up. Again, I hope I am wrong. The fish are not there.”
Dr Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries for the Mediterranean, said: “Our position in April, based on ICCAT data, is that the spawning stock will have been wiped out by 2012.
“This new data is a further indication of what we said then, which is that the spawners are disappearing. The reproducing stock is in serious trouble. This shows the bluefin is in dire straits.”
Mr Mielgo is featured in the film, The End of the Line, which has its national public premiere in 50 British cinemas tomorrow.