Mediterranean countries must cooperate against over-fishing, says UN agency

Bluefin tuna is overexploited in the Mediterranean

27 July 2005 – Just months after publishing a report showing the Mediterranean as one of the regions where fish stocks are in greatest need of recovery, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today called on countries in the region to continue working together to strengthen fisheries management so as to rebuild stocks.

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, Alain Bonzon, newly elected Executive Secretary of the FAO-affiliated General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), said.

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.

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 tons but dropped by half by 2002.

One species generating 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 tons in 1994, but by 2002 dropped by nearly half that amount to 22,000 tons.

A number of new binding recommendations to strengthen fisheries management agreed upon by a group of 24 GFCM countries are set to take effect in August. They include 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.

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, Mr. Bonzon said.

A FAO report in March named the Northeast Atlantic, and the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea as regions with stocks in greatest need of recovery. Currently, catches in the Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea, grouped together as one statistical reporting area by FAO, run around 1.5 million tons per year.

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