Mediterranean fisheries: as stocks decline, management improves
Situation demonstrates potential of regional fisheries bodies for promoting responsible fishing
27 July 2005, Rome - With the summer fishing season in full swing, FAO today called on Mediterranean countries to continue to work together to strengthen fisheries management and rebuild depleted fish stocks.
Currently, catches in the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea, grouped together as one statistical reporting area by FAO, run around 1.5 million tonnes per year.
That is more than double the 700 000 tonnes landed in 1950, but is down from the historical high-water mark of two million tonnes/year averaged during the 1982-1988 period.
Generally, fish-catch per unit of fishing effort -- a measure often viewed as key indicator of the state of wild stocks -- is declining in the Mediterranean, according to Alain Bonzon, the newly elected Executive Secretary of the FAO-affiliated General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM).
Status of many stocks worrying
Catches of many species peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and have declined since. For example, landings of hake peaked in 1990 at over 52 000 tonnes but then dropped by half by 2002.
Currently, small, open-water fish (pelagics) make up around half of all Mediterranean catches, with anchovies and sardines being the two most important such species. Bottom-dwelling (demersal) fish such as hake, red mullet, and blue whiting account for around 40 percent of catches.
FAO's most recent global assessment identified a number of Mediterranean stocks as overexploited, including bluefin tuna, Atlantic bonito, hake, swordfish, whiting, striped mullet and sea bream.
Spotlight on bluefin tuna
One species that has generated particular concern is the high-profile, high-value bluefin tuna, a major player in Mediterranean fisheries for at least 1 000 years that today is overexploited regionally.
Catches of the large, far-ranging fish peaked at 39 000 tonnes in 1994, but by 2002 dropped by nearly half that amount, to 22 000 tonnes.
Currently bluefin tuna only make up around three percent of all catches in the Mediterranean -- still, their economic importance remains high due to strong overseas demand for sushi and sashimi. Yearly demand in the United States alone, 24 000 tonnes, is more than an entire year's catch in the Mediterranean.
"Tuna fattening" adds to pressures
Adding to the pressures on wild stocks are captures of juvenile bluefin tuna used as "seed" in captured-based aquaculture (CBA). Also known as tuna-fattening, CBA is a practice in which tuna are caught in the wild and then penned and fattened using aquaculture techniques prior to harvesting.
FAO estimates that production of bluefin tuna using this method currently runs around 25 000 tons a year, up from 10 000 tonnes just five years ago. CBA of blue-fin tuna is currently concentrated in Croatia, Malta, Spain and Turkey.
According to FAO, the practice poses some serious concerns, as it puts increased pressure on already fragile stocks. At the same time, captures of "seed stock" may be going unreported, handicapping efforts to assess the stocks' status.
New management measures set to take force
A number of new binding recommendations to strengthen fisheries management agreed upon by a group of 24 countries belonging to FAO's General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) are set to take effect in August 2005.
They include closer monitoring of CBA, a proposed ban on bottom trawling at depths greater than 1 000 metres, and a requirement that all boats larger than 15 metres be logged in a central registry.
According to Bonzon, the GFCM's work in recent years demonstrates that regional fisheries bodies can take on a key role in building sustainable fisheries, even in settings like the Mediterranean where joint governance is not always easy.
* GFCM members include: Albania, Algeria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the European Community, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Monaco, Morocco, Romania, Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro, Spain, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. Membership is open to Mediterranean coastal states and to regional integration organizations such as the European Community as well as to countries that fish in Mediterranean waters.
Information Officer, FAO
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