Fishing nations have voted for only a slight reduction in catch limits for Atlantic bluefish tuna, prompting concern over the future of the species. Environmentalists say the fish stocks could be lower than estimated.
Stocks of the fish have fallen greatly in recent decades
A meeting of fishing nations on Saturday agreed to leave catch quotas largely unchanged for the Atlantic bluefin tuna.
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) said that its 48 member states had set a 2011 quota of 12,900 metric tons, a reduction of 600 metric tons.
The giant tuna is a highly valued ingredient in Japan
The slim reduction has prompted criticism from conservationists who argue that the reduction was not sufficient to maintain healthy stock levels.
"This outcome confirms that the bluefin's days are numbered and has demonstrated ICCAT's inability to act on its own mandate," said Greenpeace International oceans campaigner Oliver Knowles. "The word 'conservation' should be removed from ICCAT's name."
"Greed and mismanagement have taken priority over sustainability and common sense," said Sergi Tudela, head of the World Wildlife Fund's Mediterranean fisheries program.
Japanese culinary favorite
Most of the Atlantic bluefin tuna consumed in the world, 80 percent of which goes to Japan, is caught by France, Italy and Spain from fishing operations in the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic. France was one of the foremost nations in pushing for the status quo to be maintained, despite a call from the EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki for the quota to be reduced to 6,000 metric tons.
Scientists say that stocks of the fish, an expensive ingredient in sushi and sashimi dishes, have fallen by more than 80 percent in the last 40 years, to about 3.2 billion.
Commissioner Damanaki had wanted a far more radical cut
Individual fish can weigh up to 650 kilograms and fetch up to 120,000 euros ($160,000) at auction.
An adequate balance?
Industry representatives and national governments claimed the limits were sufficient.
French Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Bruno Le Maire said in a statement that the agreement represented "a balance between respecting natural resources and preserving the social-economic fabric."
However, conservationists say they believe that current stock levels are overestimated due to illegal fishing and under-reporting of catches.
Japan called for a crackdown on both of these practices, adding that strict enforcement was needed to ensure quotas were respected.
Author: Richard Connor (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Mark Hallam