Fishy Business: Debates over Bluefin Tuna at ICCAT Annual Meeting

A School Bluefin taken off Long Island with Capt. Chris Hessert of Manhattan Fly

A School Bluefin taken off Long Island with Capt. Chris Hessert of Manhattan Fly

Well it must be summer time, which is hard to tell by the current weather. Rain, rain, and more rain. It must be summer because the different sides are turning up the rhetoric for the annual debate on bluefin tuna. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) will be meeting in November, and the U.S. delegation is beginning to craft its position to take to the annual meeting.

The harvesting side of the resource users would like to see the quotas increased as, in their opinion, the western Atlantic stock is in reasonable shape and those who have sacrificed for so many years should get some benefit from that sacrifice. The other side says that the stocks are still at historic lows and need more protection if they are ever to recover. How can there be such a difference? It boils down to three differences of opinion in what is the “best available science”; recruitment age at sexual maturity; and one stock or two for management purposes.

Recruitment

The first is the question of recruitment and what is the correct recruitment scenario. Harvesters support a low recruitment scenario which, if correct, says that changes have altered the ability of these fish to reproduce at the levels they once did. This decrease in reproductive capacity means that the spawning stock biomass will never reach the size it used to be, so cutting quotas will not make any difference. The more conservative side supports the high recruitment theory which says that the stocks can recover to historic highs and that quotas should be cut in order to achieve these levels. There are some very well known scientists that support both sides of the question. I wish I thought that ICCAT could be the arbiter of this question, but it is highly likely they would support the harvesters.

Age

The next issue is the age at which bluefins reach sexual maturity. In the western  Atlantic it has been thought that sexual maturity was later than in the eastern stocks. If they reach sexual maturity earlier, then the fish add to the overall population sooner. Harvesters support the younger age at maturity. Those who are conservation minded do not.

Different Stocks

The last item is the concept of two distinct stocks, western and eastern. Some believe that they should be managed as one stock. Managing as one stock is less conservative for the western North Atlantic stock, and those who want to increase the quota embrace that concept.

So, on goes the argument as to whose science is the “best available.” If this argument about science does not make you nervous, then this should: ten northeast Senators and Congressmen are adding their “expertise” to the science debate by requesting a specific action from the head of the U.S. Delegation to ICCAT. These are the same members of Congress who cannot get the important issues resolved for our country, and now they are experts in fisheries matters. Yikes, I don’t know about you, but that makes me very nervous. Stand by and we’ll see where this one goes.

 

Further info:

Read the letter from 10 Members of Congress to Russell Smith, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Fisheries and US Delegate to ICCAT

Read the letter from the Pew Charitable Trusts to ICCAT

Read the Pew document, “The Best Available Science on Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna”

Read “Response to PEW factsheet on ‘The Best Available Science on Western Atlantic Bluefin Tuna'”

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"Rip" Cunningham, who owned, published and edited Salt Water Sportsman for 32 years, is also an accomplished writer and photographer. Cunningham has received several awards from the Outdoor Writers Association of America. His work has appeared in such magazines as Field and Stream, Rod and Reel, Gray's Sporting Journal, Australian Boating and the Boston Globe Magazine. Among his many accomplishments, Rip was recognized as the Conservationist of the Year from both the International Game Fish Association, the Coastal Conservation Association of Massachusetts, The Billfish Foundation and Federation of Fly Fishers. "I've earned a living from fishing, and I believe strongly that people with an interest in a given area should give something back,” he says. “It's rewarding every single day." Cunningham received his MBA from Babson College in Wellesley, MA and his BA from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL. He has two grown children and four grand children and lives with his wife and hunting dogs in Dover, MA and Yarmouth, ME. When he's not fishing or working through the items on his wife's "honey-do" list, Cunningham does some hunting and skiing.

Posted in Bluefin Tuna, Conservation

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