The European Union's executive arm is calling for a ban on commercial fishing for Atlantic bluefin tuna, giving a powerful push for an international treaty to that effect. Such a move has drawn sharp protests, even as environmentalists applaud it.
The European Commission's recommendation for its 27 member states to support a ban against commercial fishing was widely expected. Announcing the decision at a press conference in Brussels, European Union Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said there is no other choice.
"What we sincerely believe, that what we are proposing, it is a responsible decision that goes in the direction to preserve not only the bluefin tuna but also preserve long-term sustainable fishery," said Janez Potocnik.
Prized by sushi lovers, especially in Japan, bluefin tuna has seen its numbers tumble in recent years to levels that environmentalists say put its future on the line. Wendy Elliot is species program manager for the environmental group WWF in Gland, Switzerland.
"The state of Atlantic bluefin tuna today really is an absolute catastrophe," said Wendy Elliot. "We are seeing a historic decline in the order of 85 to 90 percent, which is huge, obviously. And the driver of that decline has been severe overfishing, mostly for trade in particular to the lucrative markets in Japan."
If all the EU nations sign on to the commercial fishing ban, Elliott believes it will improve chances of putting bluefin tuna on what is known as Appendix I of a U.N. convention on international trade in endangered species, known a CITES. That listing would effectively ban international trade in the tuna. A key CITES meeting is scheduled for next month.
And chances look good for broad EU support for such a ban, because key players Italy and France have recently thrown their weight behind it. But the European Union wants to try out a temporary ban on tuna trade before adopting permanent measures.
European tuna fishermen strongly oppose a bluefin tuna fishing ban, and Japan, which accounts for three-quarters of bluefin tuna consumption, says it will not recognize a ban and wants other protection measures adopted.