GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 21, 2012

Status quo holds for tuna catch

Despite stock gains, NOAA chief sought cuts

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

---- — The U.S. bluefin tuna quota, governing the high-profile industry centered on Gloucester, is being held at 1,750 metric tons by ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, following a meeting earlier this week in Agidir, Morocco.

But the 1,750-metric ton catch limit, first set at the previous ICCAT meeting two years ago in Paris, will remain for the next two years — even though the 2012 stock assessment indicates that the stock’s biomass has risen to 145 percent of what is required to achieve maximum sustainable yield, according to Richard Ruais, the executive director of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Association, who attended the meeting.

Bob Zales, of Panama City, Fla., a leader of the National Asociation of Charter Boat Operators, who was in communications with Ruais while in Morocco, said the status quo allocation was set by ICCAT despite the efforts of NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco to have the American fishermen’s catch limit lowered.

“Dr. Lubchenco pushed hard to reduce the projected quota to far less than the current 1,750 metric tons to further conserve bluefin although such a reduction would have a devastating effect on fishermen and their communities,” Zales said in an email to the Times. “Managing and maintaining maximum sustainable yield is the prime objective of ICCAT and NOAA.”

The domestic bluefin tuna fishery is based in Gloucester — which has also gained renewed tuna fishing promionence as the locale for the National Geographic Television show “Wicked Tuna.”

Lubchenco’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last year rejected the petition of the Center for Biological Diversity to put bluefin tuna on the endangered species list, but protecting the warm-blooded alpha predator among the great pelagic fishes of the world has become a moral crusade to many who consider themselves conservationists.

Lubchenco, who came to office with a reputation as a zealous conservationist, also did her best at the 2010 ICCAT meeting in Paris to reduce the allocation of bluefin, which are treated as two stocks, Western Atlantic and Eastern Atlantic. During the 2010 ICCAT meeting, U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, said Lubchenco was “selling out U.S. fishermen.”

Snowe, who did not seek re-election said at the time that “by suggesting that reductions in total allowable catch of bluefin tuna are warranted in both the Eastern and Western Atlantic, NOAA is effectively selling out U.S fishermen who for years have adhered to strict catch limits and conservation measures now proven to have boosted the health of the bluefin population.”

At the meeting this week in Morocco, conservation groups gathered along with the representatives of the 43 nations through whose waters tunas travel.

“(Lubchenco’s) position is in contravention of the best scientific advice tendered by ICCAT scientists at this meeting,” Ruais is quoted as saying by the website Fishupdate.com. “This move would have further devastated fishing communities all along the eastern seaboard.

“In setting her policy,” Ruais added, “Lubchenco went even further than that which was called for by major international environmental groups who advocated for a status quo of quota fixed at 1,750 metric tons, the quota level fixed at the last ICCAT meeting two years ago.”

“In the end, the West Atlantic bluefin tuna quota remained unchanged from the level set two years ago, at 1,750 metric tons. However, the U.S.’s position was absolutely unnecessary and unwarranted and went completely against the recommendations of ICCAT’s scientists,” said Ruais.

“Even EDF (Environmental Defense Fund, where Lubchenco was vice chairwoman before joining the Obama administration) wanted to maintain at 1,750 metric tons, but Jane went in there to reduce it and although everything shows things working wonderfully,” he added. “She is on an agenda to deny American fishermen the right to succeed.”

Led by the U.S., fishing for the prized sushi and food fish has been tightly controlled, and the Western Atlantic stock has been much stronger and stable than in the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea — where national fishing management, when it existed at all — was more primitive and ineffective.

The western and eastern stocks mix, according to a growing body of research. The bluefin spawns in the Gulf of Mexico, and in the aftermath of the BP disaster and oil line rupture in the gulf in April 2010, there was concern that the polluted waters might suppress the recruitment of the pelagic giant.

In a statement, ICCAT said the “commission lived up to its recent commitment to act responsibly by heeding the advice of its scientific community and maintaining bluefin tuna quotas at levels which would allow sustainable growth and recovery of the stock, and at the same time strengthening the control mechanisms in place.”

NOAA also issued a statement about the ICCAT meeting, saying that “the newly agreed measures will support the long-term sustainability of ICCAT stocks across international fisheries, to the benefit of U.S. fishermen.”

Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at rgaines@gloucestertimes.com.