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20% annual catch hike agreed for bluefin tuna
by Staff Writers
Genoa, Italy (AFP) Nov 17, 2014

Sashimi trend helps edge Pacific bluefin tuna towards extinction
Sydney (AFP) Nov 17, 2014 - The Pacific bluefin tuna, a fish used in sushi and sashimi dishes, is at risk of extinction as the global food market places "unsustainable pressure" on the species and others, a conservation body warned Monday.

The bluefin tuna joined the Chinese pufferfish, American eel, Chinese cobra and Australian black grass-dart butterfly on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) "red list" of threatened species.

The updated list was released by the IUCN at its once-a-decade World Parks Congress in Sydney as it called for better management of protected areas, where some of the decline in species levels has taken place.

"Each update of the IUCN 'red list' makes us realise that our planet is constantly losing its incredible diversity of life, largely due to our destructive actions to satisfy our growing appetite for resources," IUCN's director-general Julia Marton-Lefevre said.

"But we have scientific evidence that protected areas can play a central role in reversing this trend," she added.

For this year's list, the IUCN assessed 76,199 species, with 22,413 judged to be under threat.

The Pacific bluefin tuna moved from the "least concern" threat category to "vulnerable" as the species is threatened with extinction due to its use in Asia's sushi and sashimi markets, the Swiss-based group said.

As most of the fish caught are juveniles that have not yet reproduced, the population has dropped by 19-33 percent over the past 22 years.

It called for fisheries to implement conservation and management measures for the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

- Chinese pufferfish 'critically endangered' -

The Chinese pufferfish, a Japanese delicacy and one of the world's most poisonous vertebrates, was listed as "critically endangered" and its population was estimated to have plunged by 99 percent over the past four decades from over-exploitation.

The American eel is reeling from the impact of climate change, parasites, pollution, habitat loss and commercial harvesting, as well as having been hit by the high levels of consumption of its counterpart, the Japanese eel.

The IUCN categorised the Chinese cobra as "vulnerable" with the population falling 30-50 percent over the past two decades -- another species hurt by its popularity as a food source.

"The growing food market is putting unsustainable pressure on these and other species," the IUCN's biodiversity head Jane Smart said.

"We urgently need to impose strict limits on harvesting and take appropriate measures to protect habitats."

Another species added to the list was the Malaysian snail Charopa lafargei -- named after the French construction giant Lafarge, which has agreed to try and limit its quarrying activities in the snails' habitat -- the report said.

Two species, the Malaysian mollusc plectostoma sciaphilum and the St Helena Giant Earwig, were declared extinct due to habitat destruction.

But there was good news for two amphibians in Colombia's Ranita Dorada Reserve -- both members of the poison dart frogs family -- which improved in status and are now categorised as "vulnerable" due to conservation efforts.

The World Parks Congress, which will outline a global agenda for protected areas for the next decade before closing on November 19, comes a month after the member nations of the UN's Convention of Biological Diversity met in South Korea to lay out a roadmap to halt species extinction by 2020.

The World Wildlife Fund said in its Living Planet Report published in September that there has been a 52 percent decline in mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish overall from 1970 to 2010.

Fishing nations agreed Monday to a 20-percent annual increase over three years in quotas of bluefin tuna caught in the Mediterranean and East Atlantic, environmental groups said.

But they failed once more to back a ban on shark-finning -- a practice fuelled by demand in Asia -- or strengthen protection for the Mediterranean swordfish, the sources said.

The tuna decision came against the backdrop of an apparent recovery in stocks of the species, called Atlantic bluefin.

This year's quota of 13,500 tonnes will rise to 16,142 tonnes in 2015 and 19,296 tonnes in 2016, according to green groups, who attended the meeting as observers.

The 2017 quota has been provisionally set for 23,155 tonnes, but will be reviewed in the light of a stock assessment to be carried out in 2016, they said.

The decision was the culmination of a week-long meeting in Genoa of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), an organisation that comprises 48 countries, including the United States and Japan, plus the European Union (EU).

In 2013, the bluefin tuna spawning stock in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean reached 585,000 tonnes, nearly double the levels of the 1950s, according to an ICCAT estimate.

The stock had been decimated to a low of 150,000 tonnes in the mid-2000s. Japan alone consumes more than three-quarters of the annual catch, according to WWF.

Powerful fishing interests had lobbied to hike the quota but environmentalists said the long-term perspective was still unclear. Marine biologists said any increase had to be "moderate and gradual."

"It's hard to apply the term 'moderate' to an annual increase of 20 percent over three years," said Sergi Tudela at WWF Mediterranean.

"We are concerned that the huge conservation efforts of the last years might quickly fade away."

Paulus Tak at the Pew Charitable Trusts said the increased quotas for Atlantic bluefin "are risky and threaten to undo recent gains."

"Significant concerns remain about the ability of these fish to fully recover from a long history of overfishing," he argued.

France, one of Europe's biggest fishing nations, had wanted a 18,500-tonne limit for 2015 and 23,500 tonnes for 2016. Japan had pressed for an immediate quota increase of 33 percent.

"Everybody made some sacrifice. Overall, everybody is equally unhappy," said Japanese delegate Shingo Ota.

In the 1990s, a quota of about 50,000 tonnes per year saw the much-prized species stretched to the limit.

- Threatened fish -

The ICCAT quota for 2008 was 28,500 tonnes, followed by 22,000 tonnes in 2009 and 12,900 in 2011, a year in which the fish became listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Atlantic bluefin can live up to 40 years and grow to more than four metres (13 feet) long.

The fish spawn just once a year and do not reach reproductive maturity until they are eight to 12 years old, making them more vulnerable to overfishing than smaller species which spawn more frequently.

Earlier Monday, the IUCN said it had added the Pacific bluefin tuna, a cousin species, to its Red List of threatened wildlife.

The fish moved from the "least concern" category to "vulnerable," in the light of relentless demand from Asia's sushi and sashimi markets, it said.

The Genoa meeting also widened fishing possibilities for bluefin tuna in the western Atlantic.

But it failed to agree on new measures to end shark-finning -- a proposal made by the EU for the sixth time in a row -- or reduce catches of Mediterranean swordfish.

The marine conservation organisation Oceana said it was happy at the deal on tuna but said the price was a damaging tradeoff.

It blamed "a minority group led by Japan and China" for thwarting the proposal that all sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached.

"Swordfish catches have declined across much of the Mediterranean Sea and the fishery is clearly unsustainable, with juvenile fish now representing 75 percent of catches," Oceana marine scientist Ilaria Vielmini added.

"ICCAT cannot keep turning deaf ears to these alarm signals."

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