Din l-Art Helwa Press Release 2 November 2009


The Bluefin tuna is heading for imminent extinction if international trading of the species is not completely stopped for a few years so that the breeding stock can build itself back up to sustainable levels, the environmental NGO Din l-Art Helwa declared. In 2007, the proportion of breeding tuna was only 25% of the levels of 50 years ago, with most of the decline occurring in recent years. This steepening of the decline was confirmed in October 2009 by the ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) who said that the spawning biomass had now reached the critical level of less that 15% of what it was before industrialized fishing began. This means that the tuna now qualifies for ICCAT’s criteria for protection of an endangered species.


Warnings about depleting stocks of Bluefin tuna have been aired for many years now, not only by ICCAT but by other environmental groups such as the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and Greenpeace. Laws and regulations that regulate tuna fishing have existed for some years now. Only recently, EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg secured an agreement for stricter controls against illegal fishing and harsher penalties from next year. It is however a sad truism that past experience has shown that these regulations have not had the desired effect and that breeding stocks are still declining steadily.


Many factors combine to nullify any attempts at regulating this multi-million dollar industry driven by the insatiable appetite of the sushi market. Industrial fleets have huge overcapacity, causing them to overfish to break even, legal quotas are ignored, pirate fishing continues uncurbed, illegal spotting planes are used to chase the tuna, catches are under-reported and fishing is carried out during the closed season. Whether this laissez faire attitude is just a consequence of a lumbering bureaucracy or whether economic strong arm tactics are influencing the regulators is irrelevant at this stage. Unless a total ban on tuna fishing is immediately imposed, this breathtakingly beautiful king of the high seas is going to be ruthlessly butchered on the altar of greed.


Din l-Art Helwa urges the Maltese government to take the long view and to back the proposal tabled by Monaco to ban trade in bluefin tuna until breeding stocks recover. ‘Anything less than that’ said the NGO, will be nothing but short-sighted. This immediate measure will also ensure the long term survival of the fishing industry and certainly the lessons of the collapse of cod stocks should serve us well.’