Bluefin tuna

Bluefin tuna

A New Approach for Atlantic Bluefin Tuna

Once fished to the point that a trade ban was considered, the population of Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna has experienced several years of growth after fishery managers took critical steps to address the heavy legal and especially heavy illegal fishing that plagued the industry and depleted the stock in the 1990s and early 2000s.

This is a positive story in the heavily fished Mediterranean Sea. However, there is still essential work needed to secure these gains and the long-term sustainability of the stock and fishery.

It is now time to move to a new phase of transparent, science-based management designed to achieve a long-term vision for the species, and the fisheries it supports, as well as win the fight against illegal fishing. This will require a concerted effort by scientists, fishery managers, industry and other stakeholders.

Bertrand Wendling with some of the Sète fishermen represented by SATHOAN / Bertrand Wendling avec des pêcheurs sétois représentés par SATHOAN. Image: Bertrand Wendling

As members of industry and the scientific community, we know these challenges first-hand and from conception to on-the-ground implementation. That is why we came together last week – along with over 220 other stakeholders from industry, government, academia and the conservation community – for a very important conversation on The Future of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna: Fisheries, Management, and the Market.

Catches carry the MSC mark of being sustainably caught / Les captures portent le label MSC pêche durable. Image: Bertrand Wendling

Over the course of two days (3rd-4th Feb), we discussed the scientific state of the eastern bluefin tuna stock, market trends and opportunities, the impact of illegal fishing, a framework to set future catch limits, and more.

The broad consensus was that progress had been made in bringing Atlantic bluefin tuna back. But we need to secure this recovery for the future. It is time for a new management framework and one that allows for more stability and predictability for industry as well as greater management efficiency. This new approach is known as a “harvest strategy.”

A harvest strategy is an approach to setting catch limits on which scientists and industry can agree on in advance. The process builds trust among stakeholders. It makes the fishing industry more accountable and responsible for the care of the marine resources that represent its main assets, while also stabilizing those assets for future harvests and opening up new markets for sustainable seafood. It allows scientists to carefully consider the various factors influencing the stock/fishery and to determine the likely performance of various management approaches going forward, despite the inherent uncertainty in the system.

Progress had been made in bringing Atlantic bluefin tuna back / Des progrès ont été réalisés pour reconstituer les stocks de thon rouge de l'Atlantique. Image: Bertrand Wendling

Harvest strategies also call on fishery managers and governments to plan for the future and find a balance between resource exploitation and protection that works for fish and fishers. They must provide a transparent decision-making framework to guide management actions towards the ecological, economic and social objectives of bluefin tuna fisheries.

This is what is needed for Atlantic bluefin tuna to ensure long-term stability and resiliency in the face of future threats, including the illegal fishing trade. This is why we support this effort by ICCAT and call on others across the European Union to do so as well.

Bertrand Wendling is Managing Director of the French producer organisation SATHOAN, representing bluefin tuna purse seiners and MSC certified artisanal vessels

Doug Butterworth is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Cape Town