Underwatertimes.com News Service - June 22, 2006 21:19 EST

The bluefin tuna population in the Mediterranean Sea may be on the brink of collapse and the fishery must be closed immediately, said Greenpeace today. The organisation's ship Esperanza, in the Mediterranean on the 4th leg of its fourteen-month Defending Our Oceans expedition, has spent the past month documenting and exposing the disastrous management of the fishery.

During this time the Esperanza has been to some of the main tuna fishing grounds in the region, including the Balearic Islands and the waters north of Egypt and south of Turkey. Greenpeace has documented the activity of some of the most important fishing fleets in the Mediterranean and spoken with the captains of these vessels. All the evidence confirms the desperate state of the fishery in the whole region.

"A month ago we asked the question: Where have all the tuna gone? Well, now we know the answer - we may be witnessing the collapse of the bluefin tuna stock from the Mediterranean Sea," said Sebastián Losada of Greenpeace Spain aboard the Esperanza. "Massive overfishing over the past decade by greedy companies has brought about this crisis, and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), charged with regulating the industry, has proved to be completely unable to enforce the rules".

In May, Greenpeace published a report which drew the world's attention to the serious depletion of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea and demonstrating that up to 45,000 tonnes of tuna may have been caught each year in 2004 and 2005, despite the fact that only 32,000 tonnes can be caught legally. During the past month the fishermen Greenpeace has spoken to admitted that quotas are not respected and that there is no effective control over the fishery.

Greenpeace is calling on the countries of the Mediterranean to protect bluefin tuna with marine reserves in their breeding and feeding areas. They would become part of a global network of marine parks across 40% of the world's oceans that are needed to give the oceans a chance to recover from decades of large-scale industrial exploitation.

"It is indisputable that neither Governments nor ICCAT are in a position to enforce fisheries regulations in the region and that, as the evidence indicates, bluefin tuna may be on the brink of collapse", said Sebastián Losada. "The fishery should be closed until new management measures that guarantee the future of the fishery are put in place - otherwise it will be finished for good."

Other evidence of the mismanagement of the fishery documented by Greenpeace includes Japanese longliners fishing south of Sicily in the month of June, when longline fishing for bluefin tuna is prohibited, and the transhipment of catches at sea which provides an open door for illegal catches to reach the market without being properly controlled.

"The situation is cause for grave concern wherever we've been to. The Esperanza spent a week with the French and Spanish fleets and they didn't find a single bluefin tuna. The Turkish fleet is concerned about the declining size of the fish they catch, and they have only been fishing this area for five years". Said François Provost of Greenpeace France. "Sadly it seems the fishing industry has learnt nothing from the collapse of cod or the western population of bluefin tuna - they are simply repeating past mistakes in a rush to catch the last fish." Provost concluded.