EU upholds ban on bluefin tuna fishing

Despite angry protests by the French government, the EU's fishery chief refused to soften his stance on banning bluefin tuna trawling across the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean, suggesting France and Italy had gone over their quota limits.


The European Union fisheries chief refused to yield to French pressure on Tuesday to scrap a ban on trawling for bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean, saying this year's quota is exhausted.

EU regulators have banned fishing for the species by the six EU countries involved in trawling in those waters: Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain.

France has been particularly annoyed by the ban, engaging in an angry war of words with the European Commission about its catch data and arguing that it still has the right to fish.

The Commission, on the other hand, has accused France and Italy of quota-busting and under-reporting catches. It says there is evidence of illegal spotter planes being used by EU vessels to help them identify tuna shoals.

"Our figures clearly show that quotas on a national basis have been exhausted ... (they) are based on a multiplicity of sources that can be cross-checked," EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg told a news conference.

"The Commission is not returning (going back) on its decision ... We do not want a repetition of last year: it works against our credibility and doesn't help fishermen for future seasons," he said, speaking during a meeting of EU ministers.

France said it still disagreed with the Commission's calculations and disputed their validity. "I want to see figures close up, with the evidence of overfishing with which the ban has been justified -- boat by boat, quota by quota ... and compare them with our own figures," French Fisheries Minister Michel Barnier told a news conference.

"I want to know where the problem is. My main problem today is not understanding. There is a difference between the Commission's figures and the ones that we have sent."

The EU ban applies to vessels that use a "purse seine" net, which floats the top of a long wall of netting on the surface while its bottom is weighted under the water.

Last year, the combined national fleets of the six countries caused the EU to exceed its international catch quota by 25 percent. Scientists say bluefin tuna, prized by sushi lovers but overfished for years, may die out unless fishing is restricted.

Bluefin tuna are known for their size, power and speed. Maximum weights recorded are higher than 600 kg (1,300 lb).

The incentive to catch bluefin tuna remains strong, particularly in June, when about 85 percent of the fish are caught.

Since last year, market prices for the delicacy have roughly tripled. In Japan a single fish can fetch up to $100,000.


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