Times of Malta, 12 December 2009

Carmelo Agius of the University of Malta’s Biology Department (December 5) gives the impression that the “extremist” lobby campaigning for a total ban on tuna fishing is being excessively alarmist.

ICCAT (the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) recently introduced measures to counter the downward trend in bluefin tuna stocks, one of which is to reduce the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) from 28,500 to 13,500 metric tonnes.

According to ICCAT, these measures give a 75 per cent chance that bluefin tuna stocks remain stable and with a reasonable chance of improving over the next decade. In other words, there is a 25 per cent chance that the bluefin tuna will become extinct in the next 10 years.

Besides, what guarantee do we have that there will be continuous and effective inspections carried out in fishing zones to ensure that the measures and quotas are respected? Past events have shown that there is no practical effective means of effectively enforcing many of these measures.

It is shocking that we are being asked by ICCAT to accept that there is a good chance (25 per cent) of driving a species into extinction, and this purely because of industrial interests. A 25 per cent chance of survival for a species is unacceptable. To ensure a 100 per cent chance of the species’ survival, ICCAT’s own scientists recommend a 10-year global ban on tuna fishing. A recommendation ignored by ICCAT.

It is shocking that the tuna’s spawning biomass has been allowed by ICCAT to shrink to less than 15 per cent of its original stock before industrial fishing began, so much so that it now qualifies as an endangered species.

It is shocking that ICCAT turns a blind eye to the fact that young tuna are not being allowed to breed freely and naturally, but are instead rounded up into pens to fatten them up for the lucrative market when tuna is out of season and prices are peaking. This is not farming; this is extermination.

It is shocking that previous examples of overfishing such as the collapse of the cod fisheries industry in the 1990s are being ignored. At that time billions of dollars went down the drain precisely because governments and industry refused to see the writing on the wall and failed to impose the necessary restrictions.

Prof. Agius is perfectly correct in stating that the advocates of the total fishing ban have been singing the requiem for this species for decades and it appears that there is a 100 per cent chance that the singing was prophetic.