European nations sink bluefin tuna quota reduction

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Europe's Mediterranean nations roundly rejected on Tuesday a proposal by the EU's executive arm to slash the global quota for catching the lucrative sushi mainstay of bluefin tuna next year.

Fisheries ministers meeting in Luxembourg made their position known three weeks ahead of an international meeting of fishing nations on bluefin tuna, a species scientists say is endangered.

French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire called for the quota to remain at 13,500 tonnes as he opposed a European Commission proposal to cut total allowable catches more than twofold next year to 6,000 tonnes.

A stable quota "preserves the resource and at the same time guarantees work for fishermen", Le Maire said.

"Other solutions, notably the more restrictive quota of 6,000 tonnes, for example, would lead to the loss of 500 fishing jobs in France," he said.

Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain backed the French position, according to diplomats.

Britain was the only country to express support for Brussels' proposed quota reduction, while Germany and Sweden were less clear about their position, the diplomats said.

The British fisheries minister, Richard Benyon, said that safeguarding bluefin tuna was a "top priority" and that London would work with the commission and EU partners to ensure its future sustainability.

"We are aware that a number of other member states have significant fishing interests in this important and iconic species and hope that everyone agrees that all necessary action should be taken, based on the best available scientific advice, to safeguard its future," he said in a statement.

The EU has to agree on a position ahead of a meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) between November 17 and 27 in Paris.

"We will work with the commission and with other member states to agree tough conservation measures for all stocks, including sharks, under ICCAT's remit," Benyon said.

Japan consumes three-quarters of the global bluefin catch, a highly prized sushi ingredient known in Japan as "kuro maguro" (black tuna) and dubbed by sushi connoisseurs as the "black diamond" because of its scarcity.

Following aggressive lobbying from Japan, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a UN body, rejected a ban on trade in the Atlantic bluefin tuna in March.

With a ban now off the table, European fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki wants to slash the quota. Europeans take more than 50 percent of the total allowable catches.

Damanaki, citing scientists, argues that reducing the worldwide quota to 6,000 tonnes would give the stock a 66 percent chance to reach a sustainable level by 2020.

© 2010 AFP

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