Mediterranean Fishing Nations Adopt Conservation Measures

ROME, Italy, January 18, 2007 (ENS) - Nations whose fishing fleets work the waters of the Mediterranean Sea have agreed on a series of new measures aimed at conserving the region's dwindling fish populations. The delegates also adopted new, stricter rules for tuna fishing in the face of warnings that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is wiping out the world's tunas.

The measures were adopted during the annual meeting of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, GFCM. Held last week in Rome, the meeting was attended by 19 countries plus the European Community.

One of the meeting's main outcomes was an agreement on the use of new, more selective types of netting in bottom trawls. Changes to the shape of the mesh holes will allow small juvenile fish that have not yet reproduced to escape capture and return to the wild to breed.

Among the species that will benefit are red mullet and hake, popular with consumers and of economic importance but categorized as either fully exploited or overexploited by the Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO.


Fishing vessels tied up at Calpe, Spain (Photo courtesy Miro)
The commission also agreed on a common set of benchmarks for measuring the capacity of fishing fleets in the region and assessing their impacts on shared fish stocks, the first time such a unified system has existed in the Mediterranean.

"This is a milestone. We will now have a tool for getting a complete picture of what kind of fishing is going on in the entire area, and to finally be able to address the management of multispecies fisheries," said GFCM Secretary Alain Bonzon.

"What's more, these new definitions of fishing effort will enable us to study and make recommendations specific to sub-sectors of the various fishing fleets, which will improve management overall," Bonzon said.

Additionally, GFCM members signed off on new rules for tuna fishing, recently adopted by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, ICCAT, and forwarded to the GFCM. Both commissions share responsibility for managing migratory bluefin tuna stocks in the Mediterranean region.

This raises the number of countries who have agreed to abide by these ICCAT rules from 42 to 56.

The newly adopted measures include a 15 year recovery plan for bluefin tuna starting in 2007 and running through 2022.

The plan calls for six month off-seasons for specific types of boats. It bans the use of aircraft in spotting tuna, forbids the capture of tuna under 30 kilograms (66 pounds) except in certain specific circumstances, and requires better reporting of tuna catches.


A 250 kilogram (550 pound) tuna is hauled aboard a fishing vessel at Favignana, Sicily, Italy. May 1999. (Photo by Danilo Cedrone courtesy FAO)
The recovery plan allows tuna to only be offloaded at designated ports and obliges countries to place observers on fishing boats to monitor their adherence to regulations.

"These various measures should help substantially decrease illegal unreported and unregulated fishing," said Bonzon.

The FAO classifies bluefin tuna stocks in the Mediterranean as "depleted," meaning that current catches fall far below historic levels.

Landings of the large, far-ranging fish in Mediterranean waters peaked at 39,000 metric tons in 1994, but by 2002 dropped by nearly half that amount, to 22,000 tons.

The global conservation organization WWF warned today that tuna are fast disappearing, with important stocks at high risk of commercial extinction due to weak management.

The warning comes in advance of the first meeting of government members of the world’s five tuna management organizations.

Japan will host a joint meeting of tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, RFMOs, next week at the International Conference Centre in Kobe.

RFMOs are the main mechanism developed by countries to regulate fishing on the high seas – areas beyond national laws – where most tuna catches occur.

WWF’s new report, "Tuna in Trouble: Major Problems for the World’s Tuna Fisheries," reveals rampant illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, unsustainable quotas and too many boats competing for the remaining tunas.

"Sustainable management of the world’s tuna fisheries should be possible, if the will can be found," says Dr. Simon Cripps, director of WWF’s Global Marine Programme.


Spanish tuna purse seiner in the western Indian Ocean. The smaller vessel on the stern is secured to the seine net and when a school of tuna is encountered, it is launched to help encircle the fish. (Photo by Jose Cort courtesy NOAA)
"But many governments are routinely ignoring scientific advice, failing to implement the available conservation and management measures, turning a blind eye to illegal fishing and not prosecuting those who flout the rules," said Cripps.

The capacity of the world’s tuna fleet is now far greater than required to catch the legal quota, WWF warns. In 2002 in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, the capacity of the purse-seine fleets targeting bigeye and yellowfin tuna was 70 percent higher than needed to catch the quantity advised by scientis

Formal co-operation between governments through RFMOs dates back to the 1920s and there are now 16 RFMOs with a mandate to establish binding management measures for fisheries resources.

Five tuna RFMOs were established to conserve and sustainable manage tuna stocks in different oceans. These are:

To see the RFMO map click here.

The Tuna RFMOs have developed a new website at:

According to the FAO, the RFMOs represent the best way to harmonize national fisheries regulations and improve management at the regional and global levels.

They are also the only mechanisms for managing fishing in high seas areas, which fall outside of national jurisdictions.

Yet, the FAO says, despite efforts in recent years to improve their management capacity, some RFMOs have failed to achieve their fundamental goal of the sustainable management of fish stocks.

In March, the FAO will host the first global meeting of RFMOs during the next meeting of its biennial Committee on Fisheries. There countries will discuss ways to improve RFMO performance.