Assistant Secretary Strickland Announces Support for Listing Atlantic Bluefin Tuna on International Trade Endangered Species List

Last edited 09/29/2021

WASHINGTON, DC- Today, Tom Strickland, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, announced that the United States supports a proposal submitted by the principality of Monaco to list the Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) in Appendix I of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). CITES Appendix-I listing affords a species stringent protection and prohibits all international commercial trade. The fifteenth regular meeting of the CITES parties is scheduled for March 13-24, 2010 in Doha, Qatar (CoP15). Strickland will lead the United States' delegation to CoP15, on behalf of the U.S. government.

“We understand the dire situation with respect to Atlantic bluefin tuna, and the U.S. intends to vigorously support Monaco's proposal at the upcoming CITES Conference,” Strickland said. “We greatly appreciate Monaco's leadership to bring bluefin tuna conservation and management to the world's attention.”

Monaco's proposal would require a two-thirds majority of the 175 CITES parties present and voting at CoP15 in order to be adopted.

The Atlantic bluefin tuna is a long-lived species, found in the entire extent of the North Atlantic Ocean and its adjacent seas, particularly the Mediterranean Sea. The fishery is managed as two separate stocks separated by the 45ºW meridian: the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean (‘Eastern') stock, and the Western Atlantic (‘Western') stock. The separation between the stocks is based on separate spawning grounds, genetic differentiation, differing ages for reaching sexual maturity, and the apparent absence of spawning in the middle of the North Atlantic.

Atlantic bluefin tuna are harvested in both commercial and recreational fisheries, and a single bluefin tuna can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. The species is traditionally consumed fresh in Mediterranean countries and is also one of the most sought after species for the sashimi market in Japan and in the overall global market. Fishing has led to precipitous population declines of both stocks.

The Eastern stock of the Atlantic bluefin tuna has declined precipitously in the last 10 years. Based on estimated catches, scientists estimated the spawning stock biomass in 2007 to be 78,724 tons. This contrasts with the biomass peak estimated for 1958 at 305,136 tons. The decline over the 50-year historical period ranging from 1957 to 2007 is estimated at 74.2%, the bulk of which (60.9%) was in the last 10 years. Threats to the eastern stock include overharvesting and illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing by European and Mediterranean fishing fleets. The Western Atlantic spawning stock has declined by 82.4% from 49,482 tons in 1970 to 8,693 tons in 2007. In the past, decade, the Western stock has stabilized at a very low population level. Many experts correlate this stabilization to stronger management and compliance measures adopted for that stock, including scientifically based harvest quotas and a catch documentation scheme to ensure rigorous compliance by United States fishers.

The management of the bluefin tuna is regulated by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). ICCAT is an inter-governmental, regional fishery management organization responsible for the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and its adjacent seas. The 48 member countries to ICCAT will meet November 6-15 in Recife, Brazil. The management of the Atlantic bluefin tuna, will be the subject of much discussion at this November meeting, and the United States will be pursuing stricter regulation of bluefin tuna fishing.

“The eyes of the world will be focused on ICCAT and its effectiveness in addressing the threats of extinction for bluefin tuna,” Strickland noted. “Unless, ICCAT adopts significantly strengthened management and compliance measures, specifically measures to address IUU harvest, the United States will exert complete and vigorous support for Monaco's CITES Appendix I listing proposal.”

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