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Latest update : 2009-11-24

Could fishing quotas save dwindling tuna stocks?

Members of the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna have voted to lower the tuna quota to 13,500 tonnes for next year. For the Japanese, who consume 80% of the world's tuna, the cuts are excessive.

It's the crack of dawn at Tokyo's Tsukiji market - everyday bluefin tuna is auctioned off here at massive volumes. 80% of the bluefin tuna caught in the Atlantic and Mediterranean oceans is flown to Japan. Much of it ends up in Japan’s sushi restaurants.
 
It will come as no surprise that chefs are unhappy with the newly tightened fishing quotas. “It’s the same with whale quotas. Restrictions are targeted at Japan”, a chef tells FRANCE 24. “They say it is to protect the species but we saw that whales are reproducing. The restrictions are politically motivated. “
 
Here in Japan, environmental concerns are secondary to diners' passion for raw bluefin tuna - which has not abated, despite warnings that the fish may become extinct if consumption continues at the current rate. “I am currently eating tuna and I am not wondering whether the species will go extinct. What matters is whether the tuna is good and whether it is expensive or not”, one customer explains to FRANCE 24.
 
So far, tuna remains relatively inexpensive. Reduced quotas are not expected to push up prices immediately - since Japan keeps nearly 25-thousand tonnes of bluefin tuna in frozen storage. That's twice the total quantity expected to be caught in the entire Atlantic Ocean this year. This is a significant problem, according to Wakao Hanaoka, who is in charge of the Oceans Campaign at Greenpeace. According to him, it is difficult for Japanese consumers to comprehend that bluefin tuna is in danger of extinction as there is plenty of tuna in the supermarket and it is reasonably priced, furthermore, bluefin tuna in readily available in all of the country’s sushi restaurants.
 
Environmental groups point the finger at Japan's powerful fishing lobby, who they say disproportionately influence the government. Japanese authorities reject this accusation, and say they are satisfied with the compromise reached in Brazil. Masanori Miyahara, Japan’s commissioner to the ICCAT believes that the agreement reached adheres to scientific advice.
 
The last thing Japanese authorities want is a ban on tuna from the Atlantic Ocean: this would slash the volume of bluefin tuna coming into Japan by half.

By Nathalie TOURRET

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