24th May 2019

Mediterranean countries block tuna fishing ban

The European Union has abandoned its plans to push for a temporary ban on fishing for bluefin tuna, loved by sushi fans but severely overfished, after strong opposition from Mediterranean countries.

National experts from EU member states met on Monday (21 September) to consider a proposal from the European Commission to back a pause in the fishing of the species, but France, Spain, Italy, Malta, Greece, and Cyprus baulked at the suggestion, even though France had earlier said it would back the plan.

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  • Bluefin tuna is severely overfished (Photo: Jim Barter)

As a result of the obstruction, led by Spain and Malta, the officials were unable to reach the necessary majority to adopt the commission's recommendation.

The EU executive on 9 September had proposed that the bloc co-sponsor alongside non-EU country Monaco a temporary suspension on international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The ban through a CITES listing would give the fish a chance to recover, the commission argued.

The proposal to list the tuna as an endangered species was originally tabled by Monaco in July at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the inter-governmental body responsible for the conservation of tuna.

At the time, French President Nicolas Sarkozy backed Monaco's suggestion alongside a number of other EU states, including the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and Austria.

Monday's move postpones a decision on whether to place bluefin tuna on an endangered species list. EU environment ministers are now expected to reach a final position by the end of the year.

Conservationists were frustrated by the reversal.

"The blinkered attitude of Mediterranean governments would drive bluefin tuna to extinction and leave fishermen with nothing to fish in just a few years," said Saskia Richartz, a campaigner with Greenpeace in Brussels.

"But countries like Malta and Spain are increasingly isolated and there is a growing will among EU environment ministers to save this beautiful animal," she added.

EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas issued a statement in which he said he "regrets the decision".

"The commission has expressed its grave concerns about the state of stocks of the fish, which are rapidly declining after decades of overfishing," the statement continued.

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