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Critics Say Global Plan To Save Tuna Stocks Not Enough

A fishmonger drags a frozen tuna fish after trading at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market, 26 January 2007. An international meeting aimed at saving global tuna populations from overfishing is set to adopt a first-of-a-kind global action plan. The meeting, involving representatives from 60 countries or areas, is concluding a five-day meet in Japan's western city of Kobe. Japan is the world's biggest tuna consumer, eating one quarter of the global catch. Photo courtesy AFP.

Many international plans such as these are little more than covers for various national fishing industries to be allowed to continue doing what they do until they retire or are bought out by governments using tax payer funds.
by Harumi Ozawa
Kobe, Japan (AFP) Jan 26, 2007
Dozens of countries agreed Friday on the first global plan to fight overfishing of tuna, stepping up efforts to prevent the immensely popular fish from being driven to extinction. But the accord, hashed out after five days of meetings here, set no limits on the number of fish that can be caught -- a key demand by conservationists who warned that the international craze for sushi is wiping out tuna stocks.

The joint plan by some 60 countries and areas calls instead for better coordination to track trade, including by tagging fish to verify catch numbers and sharing information to blacklist illegal fishing vessels.

"Just having this joint meeting of the five organizations is a very significant development," said David Balton, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for oceans and fisheries.

"The true test will come not at this meeting but the way these commitments made here in Kobe are actually translated into actions," he told AFP.

The five existing tuna conservation bodies, covering different regions including the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean, have previously lacked standard criteria to prevent the overfishing of tuna.

But environmentalist groups have warned that the meeting may already be too late, arguing that only a radical overhaul of fishing practices can save the dwindling number of tuna.

"It has been an extremely busy week for everybody, but unfortunately not a historic week for tuna," said WWF fisheries officer Katherine Short.

"The meeting has failed to deliver meaningful action."

Another WWF official, Alistair Graham, said of governments: "Perhaps they moved an inch but not much further."

Some environmentalists complained that the action plan failed to set target figures of how, when and which countries would reduce their number of fishing vessels so as to bring down the world's total tuna catch.

But Japan's leading negotiator Katsuma Hanafusa said setting target figures was "not the purpose" of the international gathering.

"This meeting was to set the overall direction. If we try to include certain figures in the action plan, we knew the negotiation would never see the end," he said.

Masanori Miyahara, an official of Japan's Fisheries Agency and chairman of the conference, said any talk on numeric targets would be complicated by developing countries, which are seeking to boost revenue through fishing tuna.

"We have not even decided how much of a reduction we should seek in the number of fishing vessels in the world," Miyahara said at a press conference.

"We are not even at the starting point yet," he said.

But environmentalists have pinned much of the blame on Japan, which consumes one-quarter of the world's tuna, and warned that worldwide demand for Japanese food was bringing tuna to the brink of eventual extinction.

The action plan recognized "the critical need to arrest further stock decline in the case of depleted stocks (and) maintain and rebuild tuna stocks to sustainable levels."

Participants also agreed to "jointly commit to take urgent actions to cooperate through tuna regional fisheries management organizations," it said.

The delegates will meet again at the second joint meeting in January or February 2009 in Europe.

An international commission in November reduced the world's gross catch of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean from 32,000 tons in 2006 to 29,500 tons this year, a move likely to lead to an import crunch in Japan.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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