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September 23, 2009

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Call for ban on bluefin tuna fishing hits hurdles

MEDITERRANEAN countries have rejected a call by the European Union's executive and northern EU states to ban fishing for Atlantic bluefin tuna until the over-exploited population has recovered.

Atlantic bluefin is prized by sushi lovers and commands huge prices in Asia, particularly in Japan where a single fish can fetch up to US$100,000.

Industrial fishing by southern European countries has drastically reduced numbers in the Mediterranean and east Atlantic, and scientists warn the population is nearing the point at which it might never fully recover.

"We believe that full protection for bluefin tuna is urgent and necessary," British Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said in Brussels.

The warm-blooded species is known for its size and speed, reaching weights of more than 600 kilograms - heavier than an average horse - and accelerating to reach top speeds of about 70 kilometers per hour.

The EU's Executive European Commission said two weeks ago it would support the EU co-sponsoring a proposal by Monaco to list the species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species next March.

But Spain, Italy, France, Cyprus, Greece and Malta rejected that proposal at a meeting late on Monday, an EU diplomat said.

Portugal joined northern European nations by voting in favour of a ban, said another source close to negotiations.

"The blinkered attitude of Mediterranean governments would drive bluefin tuna to extinction and leave fishermen with nothing to fish in just a few years," said Greenpeace campaigner Saskia Richartz.

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European Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg said the species' fate now rested with the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas - a body maligned by environmentalists as failing to protect bluefin.

ICCAT estimates the current level of fishing is three times higher than it should be, threatening to cut the spawning population to a fifth of its size in 1970.

"I'm very disappointed that the European Union has not agreed at this stage to support Monaco's proposal," said Benn.

"When the ICCAT meets in November, the UK will press for action to be taken there."


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