The European Parliament has backed proposals to ban the trade in bluefin tuna in a bid to prevent the stock from being fished to extinction.
The vote in favour of a trade ban – passed by a show of hands on Wednesday (10 February) – comes as the European Union attempts to forge a common position for a big international meeting on protecting endangered species. Countries that have signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meet in Doha, Qatar, on 13-25 March to discuss the fate of elephants, polar bears, sharks and bluefin tuna among more than forty other endangered species.
Jo Leinen, the German Socialist MEP who chairs the Parliament’s environment committee, said: “The EU has to adopt a leading role when it comes to the protection of wild species endangered by extinction at the upcoming conference in Doha.”
He added that “it is of utmost importance to prevent the eradication of the [blue-fin] species through overfishing by large trawler fleets, leading to the loss of livelihood of local fishermen”.
But MEPs want traditional fishing boats to be exempt from the trade ban and also called for EU money to be made available to crews that lose out from the ban.
The Parliament also voted for polar bears to be added to the CITES list, to stop the trade in furs and skins, and for a ban on the trade in ivory to continue until 2028.
Ultimately, it will be for national governments to decide the EU’s negotiating position at the CITES conference, based on a proposal from the European Commission. The European Commission has yet to submit a proposal, because its fisheries and environment departments have been split over a tuna ban.
Ending this row will be one of the first tasks for Maria Damanaki, the new European commissioner for fisheries, and Janez Potočnik, the European environment commissioner.
So far, 23 of the EU’s 27 member governments have come out in favour of a ban, including big tuna-fishing nations France and Italy.
Fishing interest groups say that a trade ban would be “illogical and unreasonable”. In a joint statement, Javier Garat, the president of Europêche, and Giampaolo Buonfiglio, chair of the fisheries section at the European Agri Co-operatives, called on the Commission and member states “not to submit to pressure from environmentalists” in favour of a listing under the CITES annexes.
Environmentalists applauded the tuna ban. Sergei Tudela at WWF said that “a CITES Appendix I listing [a trade ban] will give Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks a chance to recover and offers the best chance that fishing activity around the Mediterranean Sea can continue in the long term. Without drastic action this species will be fished and traded to extinction.”