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Will the Canadian Government’s Two Faced Approach on Tuna Continue?

by Ecology Action Centre

Halifax, NS – October 21, 2013 – Atlantic bluefin tuna in Canada is currently undergoing an endangered listing process under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), and at the same time, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans requested an increase in catch limits at the 2012 International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). This week, the government of Canada will meet behind closed doors with the United States, Japan and the European Union to discuss and agree to their positions and catch limit recommendations for this endangered species, ahead of the 2013 ICCAT annual meeting.

“It seems a curious decision by the Canadian government that on a national level they are reviewing Atlantic bluefin tuna for endangered listing, while on the international stage, they are also looking to increase the quota to catch more of the same fish” said Dr. Susanna Fuller, Marine Conservation Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax. “This contradictory approach to bluefin tuna management not only undermines the endangered species listing process but also confuses fishermen and the Canadian public.”

An independent body of government appointed scientists, Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), assessed Atlantic bluefin tuna as endangered in 2011 and recommended that they be listed as on Canada’s Species At Risk Act. The assessment found that the population has declined by 69% in less than 45 years and overfishing is the biggest threat to population recovery. A preliminary decision whether or not to list the species is expected from the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans in 2014.

Canada’s request to increase quotas is driven by the fact that Canadian fishermen have been seeing more tuna over the last few years. However, scientists from Canada and ICCAT confirm that the overall population of western Atlantic bluefin remains at historic lows, and that this increase is more a reflection of changing distribution given the wide geographical range occupied by bluefin tuna, rather than increasing numbers.

ICCAT scientists determined that the western population of Atlantic Bluefin has declined to 36% of 1970 levels and while recent assessments are starting to show a reverse in this decline, in 2012 ICCAT scientists recommended that quotas be maintained at 1750 metric tonnes as the best way to ensure that the population continues to grow. At last year’s meeting, Canada requested a quota of 2000 metric tonnes despite this advice. A new stock assessment is due in 2015 and will include new data and information but the scientific advice for this year remains the same and thus the quota should too.

“The Canadian government needs to demonstrate an open and transparent approach to the management of tuna for the long term benefit of fishermen and the public,” says Katie Schleit, Marine Campaign Coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre. “Fish are a public resource, managed by DFO on behalf of all Canadians. The prudent thing to do is to heed scientific recommendations and keep catch limits in line with precautionary advice, committing to this decision this week in Japan. Certainly, we’ve learned our lessons before in disregarding science when it comes to fish.”

The Canadian government has not yet publically committed to its position for 2013.


For more information contact:

Katie Schleit, MMA
Marine Campaign Coordinator
Susanna Fuller, Phd.
Marine Conservation Coordinator
Notes to Editors:
ICCAT is an inter-governmental fishery organization responsible for the conservation and management of tunas, including bluefin, and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas. ICCAT is also responsible for other fish species caught in tuna fisheries in its convention area, principally sharks.

Canada, the United States, the European Union and Japan will meet this week outside of the view of the public to discuss their proposed recommendations to ICCAT parties on tuna catch limits. They will join the other 44 contracting parties to ICCAT in Cape Town, South Africa, from Nov. 18-25, to formally decide on the catch limits for the 2014 fishing season.

About the Ecology Action Centre
Since 1971, the EAC has been working at the local, regional, national and more recently, international level to build a healthier and more sustainable world. While all of our work is connected to Nova Scotia, we draw inspiration from many places. We work closely with communities as well as social and natural scientists and make strong use of science in communicating our message.

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