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September 4, 2009

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Greenies want more limits on tuna catch

ENVIRONMENTALISTS want tougher restrictions on the industrial-scale fishing of bigeye tuna in the Pacific Ocean after new research showed current measures are failing and will do little to sustain fish stocks.
The findings will intensify a debate between the multibillion dollar fishing industry and conservationists over the best ways to protect 23 tuna species, nine of which are threatened with extinction.
Bigeye and yellowfin tuna, which can grow to 2.7 meters long, are not in immediate danger of being wiped out, but have been hit hard by overfishing.
The western and central Pacific region accounts for 55 percent of the world's tuna production with a value of US$4-5 billion. Tuna stocks in the region have fallen since the 1960s, driven down by increasing numbers of industrial fishing fleets.
In December, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which regulates commercial fishing from Indonesia to Hawaii, approved measures supposed to reduce catches of bigeye tuna by 30 percent over three years and limit catches of yellowfin tuna to 2001-2004 levels.
But scientists found the measures were undermined by numerous territorial exemptions from the catch limits, including coastal waters that surround archipelagic states such as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines.
Also, the fleet sizes allowed under the commission's limits are not those from 2004 but what each country is permitted under various treaties. In the case of the United States, that is twice as many boats as they used in 2004.
John Hampton, one of the report's authors, said the commission's measures would only limit bigeye tuna fishing to recent "fairly high levels."
"It allows stock to fall below accepted levels that (are required for) long-term sustainability," he said. "That doesn't mean the stocks will collapse completely and go extinct. But it would ... result in the stock being much less productive than it could be."
Environmentalists say the research shows the current restrictions are inadequate.
"The value of this assessment is that it shows the likely result on high value tuna stocks of barely adequate fishing controls that are then further weakened with loads of exemptions," said Jose Ingles, from environmental group WWF.


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