The bluefin tuna fishery is regulated by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) which in 2006 adopted a 15-year recovery plan for bluefin tuna in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean.
The EU quota is shared by the eight Member States actively involved in catching bluefin tuna - Spain, France, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Portugal, Malta and Cyprus. Spain and France have the largest shares. Last November, the ICCAT endorsed a 20% annual increase of the bluefin tuna total allowable catch over the next three years, resulting in an overall increase of 60% by 2017.
A large number of inspectors, patrol vessels and aircrafts are deployed year-round to implement controls in what is a highly organised and industrialised business. Increased controls are taking place during the purse seine fishing season and the caging period of the fish caught alive by purse seiners and traps. In 2013 the ICCAT agreed new rules for the use of stereoscopic cameras for the control of the quantities of live bluefin tuna being caged into farms. Strict procedures are followed to verify the quantities of fish caged as well as the measures to release fish that exceed the quota.
Member States deploy 30 patrol vessels and 11 aircrafts while the EU contributes 200 days of fishing patrol vessels and 100 hours of air surveillance.
The European Commission also monitors fishing activity through a satellite-based control system called Vessel Monitoring System to ensure that all the rules are respected. The Commission deploys its own inspectors to carry out spot checks, in particular during caging operations.
The Mediterranean industrial purse seine fishery, which developed itself mainly in the 1990s, now accounts for more than 60% of the annual EU catch. The purse seine fleet is based mainly in Spain, France, Italy, Croatia and Malta. Tuna fisheries operate on an industrial scale and tuna caught using purse seine nets are transferred to cages at sea for fattening on farms before being sold. Japan is the largest market and also one of the largest fishers of bluefin.
This year’s season finished early for most purse seiners, which were back in port by mid-June after reaching their quotas. In a preliminary report, the European Commission said that no major issues involving systemic overfishing or illegal fishing activities of bluefin tuna by EU vessels had been detected so far and no NGOs had reported suspicious activity.
Find out more about the state of Bluefin tuna stocks and how conservation attempts are paying off here.