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November 21, 2012

Status quo holds for tuna catch

Despite stock gains, NOAA chief sought cuts

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.”

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