Bluefin tuna may be illegally captured in the Mediterranean. (Photo: WWF/ Fred Bassemayousse)
According to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), two large non-Mediterranean fleets have been spotted in some of the main Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishing grounds over the last two weeks.
The NGO raised serious concerns about the presence of several vessels in the middle of the fishing season in the area. WWF is afraid that some boats might be operating in contravention of international bluefin tuna conservation rules.
“What we have uncovered from AIS radio signals of fishing vessels in the Mediterranean looks like history repeating itself,” a reminder of the situation observed in the early nineties, said Dr. Sergi Tudela, Head of WWF Mediterranean Fisheries Programme. After a few years of tighter controls, it seems that we’re heading back to the situation we had more than a decade ago, when fishing pressure soared to peak levels that threatened the population with collapse,” he added.
One of the fleets, Fu Yuan Yu, is made up of 13 Chinese vessels, and the second fleet includes a minimum of six vessels with an unknown flag.
Anyway, none of these vessels have been authorized to fish for bluefin tuna in Mediterranean waters.
According to WWF, the Fu Yuan Yu fleet crossed the Mediterranean from Suez to Gibraltar, before leaving the region on 26 May. After passing through the Sicily Channel, AIS signals were shut off for more than two days.
In reply to requests for clarification the Chinese authorities have stated that the fleet is heading towards Mauritania, the ecological entity reported.
Meanwhile, the second fleet has also repeatedly been detected in the western Mediterranean, including within the Spanish Fisheries Protection Zone in the Balearic Sea, one of the major fishing areas for bluefin tuna.
Most of the vessels with unknown flags have been located off the coast of western Algeria, near the Alboran Sea.
After checking the presence of both fleets, WWF said that they immediately submitted this information to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) Secretariat, to the European Commission (EC) and to the Fisheries General Secretariat of Spain.
Besides, the NGO urged the head of the Ministry of Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs (Magrama), Arias Cañete, to carry out on-board inspections of the vessels in order to rule out any legitimate suspicion of illegal fishing of bluefin tuna.
“Despite cumulative signs of potential illegal fishing, and our repeated real-time communication to all the relevant management bodies, including ICCAT, the EC and countries like Spain and Italy, to our knowledge no at-sea inspections have taken place so far,” pointed out Juan Carlos Del Olmo, WWF secretary general in Spain.
“At present, it’s more important than ever to avoid easing off as a result of the pressure on illegal fishing so as to save the bluefin tuna from the Mediterranean, he warned.