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Tuna and tuna-like species are targets of important fisheries in both developed and developing countries, and are a significant source of food all over the world. The catch of these species was about six million tonnes in 2002. Albacore, bigeye, Atlantic bluefin, Pacific bluefin, skipjack, southern bluefin and yellowfin, which are frequently referred to as the principal market species of tunas, are the most important species of tunas, in terms of both quantities and market values. They are used mostly for canning and sashimi (raw fish regarded as a delicacy in Japan and, increasingly, in other countries). Due to their high economic value and extensive international trade, the principal market species of tunas are a very important global commodity. Their annual catches have increased from less than 500 000 tonnes during the 1950s to more than 4 000 000 tonnes in 2002, having been stable at about the latter level since 1999. The export value of the 2002 catch was about US$5 billion.

Since the 1940s, when the industrial fisheries for tunas began, the numbers of vessels of the traditional tuna-fishing countries have been increasing, and additional countries began participating in tuna fisheries. Also, new developments in fishing technology have dramatically increased fishing capacity worldwide. As a result of these developments, tuna-fishing capacity has become excessive in respect to tuna resources, the demand for tuna products or both. This excess has led to overexploitation, or even depletion, of some tuna stocks.

Research carried out and/or coordinated by regional tuna fishery management organizations and other intergovernmental organizations indicates that most stocks of tuna are fully exploited, and some are overfished, or even depleted. Only a few tuna stocks are underexploited, so there is only a limited potential for sustainable increases in the catches of tunas. In fact, significant increases in fishing effort for tunas would likely lead to a further overexploitation of some stocks, eventually resulting in reductions in overall catches in the long term.

Tuna are fished, traded, processed and consumed almost globally. Vessels registered in coastal countries bordering one ocean frequently fish in other ocean areas. In particular, the industrial fleets often transfer their operations from one ocean to another in response to changing conditions, which makes it difficult to manage fishing capacity on a regional scale. In addition, after capture fish are frequently transported to other parts of the world for processing. Also, substantial illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which occurs in all oceans, significantly complicates the management of the fisheries for tunas.

In the recent past, due to an excess supply of raw material for tuna canning, the prices paid for the fish were reduced to the point that fishing for some species was no longer profitable. In response, the tuna industry has been trying to overcome this problem independently of governments and intergovernmental organizations. The owners of tuna purse seiners formed a global organization, the World Tuna Purse-Seine Organization, temporarily limiting fishing effort by their vessels. Also, the number of longline vessels supplying the sashimi market has been reduced in some countries. However, these actions are not regarded as sufficient in the long term.

Most of the regional tuna fishery management organizations have been attempting to address the issue of tuna-fishing capacity in their areas of competence. However, the problems of managing tuna-fishing capacity are multidisciplinary, involving biological, socio-economic and technological issues, and the conventions of most, if not all, of the tuna fishery management organizations do not encourage their involvement in issues other than biological issues. In addition, the problems are similar in all oceans, so it is more efficient to deal with them on the global scale, eliminating duplication of effort. Also, developing countries need technical support to participate in international discussions on the establishment of international and national regimes for the management of tuna-fishing capacity.

Identification and resolution of the technical problems associated with the management of tuna-fishing capacity on the global scale would:

Because of its global and multidisciplinary role and its involvement and expertise in tuna resources, fishing, processing and trade, FAO is an appropriate organization to address the problem of tuna-fishing overcapacity. In response to the request made by several countries at the twenty-fourth session of FAO's Committee on Fisheries for assistance in addressing the problem of tuna-fishing overcapacity, FAO formulated a Project on the "Management of tuna fishing capacity: conservation and socio-economics". The Government of Japan has financed the Project.

The present publication provides information on the technical findings from the studies implemented by the Project.

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