Delegates attend the 10-day-long meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in Paris. – AFP Photo

PARIS: Fishing nations came under fresh pressure on Friday to cut Atlantic bluefin tuna quotas as negotiators got into the thick of annual wrangling over limits at talks in Paris.

With widespread uncertainty over how many fish are left to be caught, the United States urged a lower quota than last year and Japan called for a crackdown on unreported fishing which environmental groups say is rampant.

“When there is uncertainty in science we believe that it is important to err on the side of caution,” U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere Jane Lubchenco told Reuters at the meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in Paris.

“We believe that it is appropriate therefore to seek lower TACs (total allowable catches) for bluefin tuna for both sides of the Atlantic,” she said.

The 48-member ICCAT, based in Madrid, meets every year to fix annual quotas for the giant fish popular with sushi-lovers.

Talks started on Wednesday but were focused mainly on technical issues.

The European Union's position on quotas this year is unclear after EU ambassadors for Mediterranean fishing nations successfully pushed at a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday to shoot down an EU proposal on measures to protect the fish.

Prized by fishermen, Atlantic bluefin can grow to the size of a horse and fetch as much as $100,000 in markets like Japan, but their stocks have plunged by more than 80 per cent since 1970s, according to western scientists.

ICCAT set an overall quota for 2010 of 13,500 tonnes of fish, which its scientific advisors said offered at least a 60 per cent probability of rebuilding stocks by 2022.

Precautionary approach

ICCAT chairman Fabio Hazin said on Friday that in light of uncertainty over the size of stocks, due in part to illegal fishing, members should “apply the precautionary approach by setting a TAC that would take these factors into full account.”

The warm-blooded bluefin tuna can weigh up to 650 kg and is found in the north Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean, where captured fish are fattened in enclosures.

France, Italy and Spain catch most of the Atlantic bluefin consumed in the world and 80 per cent of the haul goes to Japan.

Before EU members rejected its conservation plan, the European Commission had said a limit of 6,000 tonnes was needed for 2011 to give the fish a real chance of recovery, but it acknowledged that would be tough for fishermen.

“The decisions we have to take can sometimes be very hard for the fishing industry to accept,” the head of the EU delegation, Pierre Amilhat, told the ICCAT conference.

Japan's delegation proposed that fishermen be forced to come up with plans for respecting quotas and that that they would have to get ICCAT's backing before they could fish.

Conservation groups are out in force at the talks. Greenpeace parked a car with a giant fake tuna on its roof near the venue where the talks are being held with “Save me” written along the side of the vehicle. – Reuters

Updated Nov 21, 2010 10:19am

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