Monday, June 30, 2008

Tuna Declines in the Mediterranean

From Newsweek, "The Tragic Tale of the Last Tuna."

Mediterranean fishermen are hurting: stocks of bluefin tuna, by far the sea's most economically important fish, are dangerously low. Although many countries share the blame, the chief culprit, say fisheries experts, is France. Its annual quota accounts for one fifth the entire legal quota of Atlantic tuna for all countries. Factor in illegal catches, and France's take climbs to about one third of all Atlantic tuna caught last season, according to Greenpeace. When it comes to bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, "France is the worst," says French biologist Daniel Pauly, director of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia.
The article goes on to state that this fishery is on the brink of commercial extinction. There are two main points I found interesting. The first factor, declines in stocks leads some fishermen to cheat.
With catches declining, many fishing operations have taken on debt, which gives them a motivation to stretch or break the rules.
The second factor, there exists a nearby country, Libya, with very lenient environmental policies.

With France's tuna waters in the Gulf of Lyon fished out, and yield sharply down near the Balearic Islands, French boats headed to Libyan waters, where quotas are almost meaningless. Some vessels sell fish at sea, sidestepping port controls. Rogue boats sell tuna caught over their quotas to "reefer" freezer boats bound for Asia, or to fishing boats with unmet quotas, a trick known as laundering. Fishermen have also begun to deliver tuna live in undersea cages to nonfishing vessels, which take the fish, mostly underweight juveniles, to offshore pens, where they're fattened for sale.
This creates a very difficult management scenario, since these stocks are not limited to specific political borders. The benefit of cheating far outweighs any of the risks associated with getting caught, since Libyan regulators can obviously be bought off. This makes fisheries management very difficult. This leads to an important question: What types of viable management strategies exist? Can France develop policies with large enough teeth to create a legitimate disincentive for their own fishermen? Will European governments find this issue important enough that they will pressure Libya to increase enforcement?

HT: Ahabs Journal

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