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Montreal, QC — Scientists and managers from around the world are gathering this week in Montreal to discuss the precarious state of the world's most high profile fish: the Atlantic bluefin tuna. At this meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), stakeholders will focus on the current state of knowledge about bluefin tuna in the western Atlantic and will signal whether bluefin managers will follow sound science or take a more risky approach that favors short-term economic gain. ICCAT manages highly migratory species in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean.

"Bluefin tuna are among the most sought after fish in the sea, and we know we are not doing enough to understand and protect them," said Scott Wallace of the David Suzuki Foundation. "Failing to act in a precautionary manner will continue to put bluefin tuna at risk."

At last year's ICCAT meeting, Canada was one of the only countries asking for an increase in catch quota. Meanwhile, the Canadian government was formally considering whether Atlantic bluefin tuna should be listed as endangered under Canada's Species at Risk Act (SARA).

Canada has a history of ignoring precautionary scientific advice and its own policies including a decision earlier this month to increase catch quotas of Atlantic cod, despite being well below recovery targets.

"It would appear from Canada's behaviour that we have not learned our lesson and continue to disregard scientific advice," said Susana Fuller of the Ecology Action Centre. "With cod, Atlantic Canada is the home of the largest fish stock collapse in the world. Are we now contributing to the collapse of one of the largest fish in the world as well?"

Local abundance in Canada has increased over the last decade, but given the wide range which bluefin tuna occupies, the increase may be a reflection of changing distribution not increasing numbers. According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, which reviewed Atlantic bluefin tuna status in 2011, the abundance of spawning fish has declined by 69 per cent in less than 45 years, qualifying them for an endangered listing under SARA.

Bluefin have high economic value. A single bluefin tuna is typically worth over ten thousand dollars in Canada.

"A recovered population of Atlantic bluefin tuna would be much more economically viable, yet we seem content to pick away at a depleted stock," said Fuller.

Decisions on the western Atlantic bluefin quota level and allocations will be made in November this year in Cape Town, South Africa.

Media contacts:

Scott Wallace, Senior Research Scientist, David Suzuki Foundation, swallace@davidsuzuki.org, 778-558-3984

Susanna Fuller, Marine Conservation Coordinator, Ecology Action Centre, marine@ecologyaction.ca 902-483-5033

Background info

  • COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) is a committee of experts that assesses and designates which wildlife species are in some danger of disappearing from Canada. COSEWIC recommended an Endangered status listing for Atlantic bluefin tuna in their last assessment in May 2011.
  • The Species at Risk Act is a key federal government commitment in Canada to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct and secure the necessary actions for their recovery. It provides for the legal protection of wildlife species and the conservation of their biological diversity.
  • ICCAT set a quota for western Atlantic tuna in 2012 in line with scientific advice. Canada was allocated a total allowable catch (TAC) of 381.66 tonnes, 21 percent of the total quota for western Atlantic bluefin tuna of 1,750 tonnes. The annual TAC for 2014 will be set in 2013 at ICCAT's 23rd Regular Meeting.
  • The 23rd Regular Meeting of ICCAT will take placefrom November 18-25 in Cape Town, South Africa.
  • In June 2013, DFO Minister Keith Ashfield allocated an individual quota of 2268 kg for Northern cod, a 33 percent increase compared to 2012. At the same time, DFO scientists estimate that abundance of northern cod is low and might experience serious harm http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/decisions/fm-2013-gp/atl-016-eng.htm.
June 26, 2013