EU wants freeze on Libya's bluefin tuna catch

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 31, 2011 11:33 AM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's fisheries chief has called for the suspension of Libya's fishing rights for the Atlantic bluefin tuna, fearing the endangered fish could be further depleted amid the confusion of war.

An Atlantic bluefin can grow to the size of a horse and fetch more than $100,000 in markets such as Japan, but stocks have plunged by more than 80 percent since the 1970s, scientists say.

EU fisheries chief Maria Damanaki fears Libya is in no position to regulate its fishing fleets when bluefin come to spawn in the Mediterranean in May or June.

High-tech fishing vessels using echo-sounders have become so efficient at locating and netting the giant creatures in "purse seine" nets that a season's quota can be met in just 10 days, and long-term damage to the stock can be inflicted thereafter.

Damanaki called for action from the body that governs bluefin fishing, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), in a letter seen by Reuters on Thursday.

"The EU believes that, as long as this situation will last, this gives rise to grave concerns in a situation where bluefin tuna is already under serious threat," Damanaki wrote.

She called for Libya's fishing rights for Atlantic bluefin tuna to be "temporarily suspended until Libya is able to ensure the respect of all ICCAT provisions." Last November, ICCAT set a 2011 quota of 12,900 tonnes, down 600 from 2010, ignoring calls from conservation groups for deeper cuts.

(Reporting by Pete Harrison, editing by Mark Trevelyan)