Barcelona, Spain: According to WWF, two large non-Mediterranean fleets have been spotted in some of the main Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishing grounds over the last two weeks. Such a presence during the fishing season has caused WWF to raise serious concerns that some boats might be operating in contravention of international bluefin tuna conservation rules.
The substantial presence of irregular foreign vessels in the Mediterranean, added to an evident decrease in the control zeal of nations involved in this fishery, is a reminder of the situation observed in the early nineties.
“What we have uncovered from AIS radio signals of fishing vessels in the Mediterranean looks like history repeating itself” said Dr. Sergi Tudela, Head of WWF Mediterranean Fisheries Programme.
“After a few years of tighter controls, it seems that we’re heading back to the situation we had more than a decade ago, when fishing pressure soared to peak levels that threatened the population with collapse”.
A first fleet refers to a minimum of 13 Chinese vessels, and is named after “FU YUAN YU”. The second fleet includes a minimum of eight vessels with an unknown flag. None of these vessels is authorized to fish for bluefin tuna.
The FU YUAN YU fleet crossed the Mediterranean from Suez to Gibraltar, before leaving the region on 26 May. After passing through the Sicily Channel, AIS signals were shut off for more than two days. In reply to requests for clarification the Chinese authorities have stated that the fleet is heading towards Mauritania.
A second fleet, under an unknown flag, has also repeatedly been detected in the western Mediterranean, including within the Spanish Fisheries Protection Zone in the Balearic Sea, one of the major fishing areas for bluefin tuna. Most of the vessels in this fleet have been located off the coast of western Algeria, near the Alboran Sea.
WWF immediately submitted this information to the ICCAT Secretariat and the European Commission, while urging the relevant national fishing authorities to carry out on-board inspections of the vessels in order to rule out any legitimate suspicion of illegal fishing of bluefin tuna.
“Despite cumulative signs of potential illegal fishing, and our repeated real-time communication to all the relevant management bodies, including ICCAT, the European Commission and countries like Spain and Italy, to our knowledge no at-sea inspections have taken place so far”, added Dr. Tudela.
The recent reports on radioactive contamination of Pacific bluefin tuna off the California coast will, in all likelihood, have an effect on Japanese consumption, which is likely to increase the demand for Mediterranean bluefin tuna. Prices currently offered by Mediterranean tuna farmers for live tuna from purse seine fishermen have already reached historical record levels for this year.