French tuna fishermen fear for livelihood

French tuna fishermen fear for livelihood

22nd March 2010, Comments 0 comments

The proposal to ban bluefin tuna fishing may have fallen through but fishermen in Sete continue to have doubts about their future due to lower allocated quotas.

Efforts to ban bluefin tuna fishing hit a hitch on Thursday, but French fishermen who make their living from the threatened species are already resigned to the end of their trade.

At a meeting in Doha, the UN body overseeing commerce in endangered wildlife, CITES, rejected a proposal to outlaw international trade in eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna, a sushi mainstay in Japan.

But in Sete, southern France, Bertrand Wendling, head of an organisation which groups the 11 tuna boats fishing in the area, has doubts about their future due to lower quotas.

The rejection of a ban "is a load off our mind, but the whole issue is not settled," he said.

"In 2005, we were fishing for 11 months out of 12, this year the season will only last a month," from May to June, he said. "There are just 17 boats at sea," compared to 28 in 2009 and 36 in 2008.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) has slashed the quota from 22,000 tons in 2009, to 13,500 tons in 2010, of which France is allocated just over 2,000 tons.

Despite the failure of Monaco's attempt to classify bluefin tuna as under threat of extinction, those involved in the industry say that dramatically falling revenues mean fishermen can no longer make a living from the bluefin.

 Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP

A menu shows a photo of Bluefin Tuna (Maguro)

Raphael Scannapieco, one of the main shipowners in the Sete area, has seen turnover fall to just EUR 500,000 this year, down from three million in 2007.

In May, the newly reduced quota will mean that one of his two ships will have to remain docked at port.

Some fishermen have taken to Libyan waters where there is a more plentiful supply and where checks are less rigorous, but ICCAT has now banned fishermen from doubling up Libyan and French quotas, Wendling said.

"There is no way to adapt: the boats are too small to fish tropical tuna and too big to fish other species," he said.

The government has proposed to compensate those who permanently retire their ships with up to EUR 2 million per vessel but many fishermen say this is insufficient. Only seven boats have been cashed in under the scheme.

Some fishermen have talked of casting their nets as far afield as the Pacific and the Indian Ocean for other fish species. Others are eyeing sardines and anchovies or seeking licences for other small-scale fishing ventures.

However, despite the alternatives, the fishing industry as a whole is under threat from "all these environmentalists", said Henri Gronzio, president of the Sete regional fishermen's committee.

A worker cuts a tuna at New York's main wholesale fish market in the Bronx on 12 March 2010

The effect of new restrictions is already being felt in Sete with a 25 percent drop in the number of those directly or indirectly employed by the industry, from about 1,000 in 2006 to 750 this year, town authorities say.

"Adapting is not easy either for the owner or the crew", acknowledged Philippe Mauguin, a senior official at the farms and fisheries ministry, which has promised to help those making changes.

AFP / Anne Beade / Expatica

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