Published by Times of Malta, 20 March 2010
The World Worldlife Fund is expected to call for an end to the use of huge nets in tuna fishing, known as purse seines, after an outright ban on the international trade of the species was rejected by the UN’s governing body.
“We will call for a complete ban (on purse seine vessels) because they are very destructive,” a WWF Mediterranean spokesman said.
On Thursday, the majority of states at the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) threw out a proposal by Monaco to ban international bluefin tuna trade.
Both the government and local fishermen with huge stakes in the lucrative industry welcomed the rejection but have called for more controls, deeming them necessary to ensure that stocks are not depleted, putting their livelihood at stake.
On the other hand, WWF described the decision as “very disappointing” and said that eliminating purse seiners, which surround huge shoals of fish with nets, would allow for more sustainable fishing through traditional methods, including those used by Maltese fishermen.
The WWF fears that tuna stocks could be completely depleted as early as 2012 if present fishing methods continue.
The spokesman said the WWF was also pushing for Atlantic bluefin tuna to be listed on Appendix II of Cites, which puts strict regulations on trade, instead of the Appendix I listing rejected on Thursday. “There is a very small possibility but we are pushing for it,” she said.
“We are not anti-fishing or anti-consumption of tuna. In the long term we hope to see a sustainable fishing industry. It is in everyone’s interest to be more moderate now so that we can continue fishing in the future.”
Local fishermen also believe that tuna fishing should be better guarded from industrial fishing methods. “We are worried about the amount of tuna that will be depleted because of industrial fishing,” Paul Piscopo, from the Għaqda Kooperattiva tas-Sajd, said.
Like the WWF, Mr Piscopo believes that purse seiners, which have big nets and the technology to follow tuna shoals, should be reduced.
He said it was up to governments to ensure that the regulations imposed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) were respected.
But he believes that an outright ban is not the answer; the rejection was positive because it would allow local fishermen, who use traditional methods, to continue with their work.
“However, I am very concerned that the tuna stocks will be depleted because of overfishing by industrial fishing boats,” he said.
The biggest player in the local tuna fattening industry, Charles Azzopardi, from Azzopardi Fisheries, begs to differ.
He does not believe there is a big threat to sustainability, although he admits that overfishing did take place in the past. “For the first time, we are hearing of people going fishing one kilometre out and catching tuna,” he said, pointing out that in the past you only found tuna in much deeper waters.
He said that not only were local fishermen controlled by the government, the EU and ICCAT, but there were also controls imposed by the Japanese buyers. “You cannot sell a fish without the proper documentation,” he said.
Mr Azzopardi also disagrees with a ban on purse seiners, saying there were already “tremendous” controls. He said tuna fishing had been reduced by 60 per cent since 2007.
“Purse seiners are bound by strict regulations. A ban would be a bad idea, especially in this economic climate,” he said, adding that fishermen had to be careful because they needed to leave the industry in a good shape for the next generation.
Bluefin tuna is very popular in Japan, which consumes about 80 per cent of the world’s catch, much of it going into sushi or sashimi production. According to Japanese journalist Akio Fujiwara, in Malta to cover the industry, a traditional Japanese meal would consist of a bowl of rice, miso soup, a salad and tuna sashimi and would cost about €10 in a restaurant.
But although tuna remains very popular with the Japanese, the consumption of bluefin tuna has dwindled over the years because people are going for cheaper alternatives.
Japan was against the ban from the start but its strong rejection surprised even the government, Mr Fujiwara said.