Last week at the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in Morocco, fishing nations of the North Atlantic met to discuss the stock status and quota allocations of species such as tunas, swordfish, sharks and marlins. The endangered bluefin tuna, the most lucrative commercial fish on the planet, receives much attention at ICCAT meetings because it's notorious for being on the losing side in the economics versus conservation balance sheet.
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This year's ICCAT meeting was of particular interest to me because our government, while negotiating international quotas, is simultaneously consulting domestically with Canadians on whether the endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna should be legally protected under our Species at Risk Act (SARA). Endangered wildlife or meat? Under these two internally competing mandates, you would expect a delegation representing Canadian interests to push for the most precautionary fishing options tabled by the ICCAT scientists: in this case, maintaining the quota at 1,750 tonnes.
Instead, Canada was the only country arguing for an increase to the quota for Atlantic bluefin tuna (western population). Canada's push for a 14 per cent increase in quota infuriated other country representatives. They felt that Canada was "out of step" with both the political will and scientific advice of the meeting. In fact, the most precautionary fishing advice identified by ICCAT scientists, but not tabled for discussion, suggested making a reduction in the quota to 1,300 tonnes. (see SCRS report page 25). All this while Canada's scientific body on species at risk found there has been a 69 per cent decline in the population of reproductively mature fish in less than three generations. That means the bluefin meets the criteria for an endangered species.
The head of the Canadian ICCAT delegation is a Regional Director General at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the same government department overseeing the consultation on the SARA listing. If Canada is not embarrassed to repudiate scientific advice tabled at international negotiations, I am not sure why they are pretending to listen to Canadians at home. Just the same, I'll be submitting my comments supporting legal protection of Atlantic bluefin tuna. I hope my comments will fall on the desk of someone who sees bluefin tuna as something other than just meat. You can register your concerns here.