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EU Fleet Caught Fishing Illegally One Day Into Bluefin Tuna Recovery Plan

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AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands -- he Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior yesterday documented illegal fishing activities by the EU fleet, only one day after the new regulation of the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna ( ICCAT ) entered into force. ICCAT agreed last November to establish a number of measures to curb illegal fishing, amongst them a total ban on the use of spotter planes.

The Rainbow Warrior documented the fishing activities of three Italian purse seine fishing vessels, the Ligny Primo, the Maria Antonietta and the Luca Maria ( 2 ). One of those vessels, the Luca Maria, is not included on the ICCAT register of fishing vessels licensed to fish for bluefin tuna. The Italian fleet was surrounded by spotter planes during the whole fishing operation. At around 12:30, the three boats set their nets and made a catch. The spotter planes continued circling the purse seiners until the fishing operation was complete.

The use of spotter planes to find tuna is banned under the ICCAT bluefin tuna recovery plan. Greenpeace identified four spotter planes, three American and one Italian ( 3 ). According to informal sources a fleet of between 10 and 15 spotter planes are operating from the Italian island of Lampedusa.

"We have been observing spotter planes regularly since we started our work in the region one month ago, but today we have been able to clearly identify the airplanes and the fleets they were operating with," said Sebastian Losada, Greenpeace Spain oceans campaigner onboard the Rainbow Warrior. "The European fleet is one of the main fleets responsible for illegal catches of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean. If European countries are not able to control their fleets, the vessels should be called back into port immediately."

The bluefin tuna fishery has one of the highest rates of illegal fishing in the world. In recent years around 50,000 tonnes of bluefin tuna have been caught every year, despite the legal annual quota for the species being 32,000 tonnes until last year. Illegal activities such as the use of spotter planes and the use of transport vessels to launder catches are known to be widespread in the region.

The new ICCAT bluefin tuna recovery plan that entered into force on Wednesday allows for the capture of 29,500 tonnes of bluefin tuna, despite the fact that ICCAT's own scientists recommended a maximum quota of 15,000 tonnes to recover the stock.

"The plan agreed by ICCAT countries allocates quotas at twice the level recommended by their own scientists. It simply does not deserve the name 'recovery plan'," Losada said. "The 15,000 tonne quota recommended by scientists has most likely already been reached, so the fishery should be closed immediately".

Greenpeace is campaigning for a global network of fully protected marine reserves covering 40% of our oceans as an essential way to protect the full range of marine life and restore the health of fish stocks. As part of this campaign, the Rainbow Warrior is currently in the Mediterranean documenting threats to the sea and confronting the tuna fleets that are wiping out the last of the great fish in the area.

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