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WWF report says tuna farming will strike deathblow to Mediterranean tuna

11th April 2002

According to a new WWF report launched today on tuna farming in the Mediterranean, 'tuna penning', or caging of tuna for fattening, is severely threatening the dwindling populations of wild tuna. In view of this threat, the conservation organization is calling for a moratorium on the development of new tuna farms in the Mediterranean, until its environmental impacts, particularly on tuna stocks, are addressed at the international and national levels.

The report’s launch coincides with a meeting on bluefin tuna to be held in Malta from 15 to19 April 2002, involving the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT), the organizations responsible for the management of wild tuna in the Mediterranean. WWF calls on GFCM and ICCAT as well as the European Union (EU) to set up effective regulations for tuna farming, aimed at rebuilding the over fished tuna stock. WWF recommends that until these regulations are in effect in the region, further development of tuna farming should be stopped.

"Tuna-farming in the Mediterranean is not true aquaculture but just an added final step of a standard fishery which relies on the already overexploited wild tuna stock. This new practice is expanding the market for bluefin tuna, resulting in a further increase in fishing effort," says Dr Sergi Tudela, Fisheries' Officer at WWF Mediterranean Programme.

Tuna farming in the Mediterranean is a phenomenon driven mainly by Japanese market demands. Farmed tuna is higher in oil content, which makes it particularly desirable for sushi. Wild tuna, therefore, are put in cages and fattened to improve the oil content of the flesh in order to meet Japanese market standards. The preference for farmed tuna is evident in their increasing exports to Japan, which shot up from 200 tonnes to about 4300 tonnes in just three years.

Another part of the problem is that tuna farming falls in between the definitions of a standard fishery involving capture of wild stock, and true aquaculture where fish are bred and reared in captivity. It is considered a post-harvest practice and therefore falls outside the regulations put in place by GFCM and ICCAT. This situation has resulted in an unregulated growth of tuna farming. Last year, the 12 tuna farms operating in the Mediterranean region produced 11,000 tonnes of tuna, compared to almost nothing five years ago. This is more than half of the world's total.

Although ICCAT and GFCM are responsible for managing bluefin tuna stock in the Mediterranean, the EU could take action to stop the over fishing of tuna and regulate its farming. Many of the tuna farms operating in the Mediterranean are subsidized under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). With the CFP due for a once-in-ten years review this year, WWF urges the EU to decrease the fishing effort on the wild tuna stock, and to regulate tuna farming when reforming the CFP. In addition, the conservation organization calls on the EU to put in place a recovery plan for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean.

"The EU, GFCM, and ICCAT should define rules for the quantity of tuna captured for farming, and for controlling exports. Furthermore, the Mediterranean States should effectively implement these rules," says Paolo Guglielmi, Head of the Marine Unit at the WWF Mediterranean Programme.

For further information:

Anne Rémy

Head of Communications, WWF Mediterranean Programme Office

Tel.: +39 06 844 97 424/224/417

Julian Scola

WWF European Fisheries Campaign Communications Manager

Tel.: +32 2 743 88 06