Canadian fishing quotas for western stock bluefin tuna are set to rise for the next three years after International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas member states struck a deal in Marrakesh on Nov. 21.
The bluefin quota will be increased up to 2,350 metric tonnes from 2,000, but the Halifax-based Ecology Action Centre warns that that already-depleted tuna populations in Atlantic Canada will be endangered even further.
“We are astonished that ICCAT parties would raise the quota to a level that will lead to roughly a 7.5% population decline over just three years. Parties are abandoning their commitment to rebuilding a stock it is has worked for 19 years to save,” said EAC spokesperson Heather Grant, who was at the Morocco conference, in a release.
She added that such a move did not live up to Canada’s domestic commitments, even while acknowledging the decision was not Ottawa’s alone to make.
Furthermore, Canada decided not to list bluefin tuna on its Species At Risk Act earlier this year, in favour of other measures should still serve to rebuild and protect the population, according to the EAC.
“This undermines Canada’s commitment to rebuilding depleted stocks and at-risk species,” said Grant.
ICCAT committed to a 20-year rebuilding plan for western bluefin stock that ends next year, but no evidence of population recovery has yet been presented, says the EAC.
“ICCAT as a whole showed that it is incapable of making hard decisions to conserve species at this year’s meeting,” said Katie Schleit, Senior Marine Campaign Coordinator for the EAC.
While fishermen in the Gulf of St. Lawrence have seen more bluefin tuna in their waters over the last two years, many of the fish are from the eastern stock near Europe and North Africa, having swam across the Atlantic Ocean.
Up to 59 per cent of bluefins spotted in the gulf off Pictou County are eastern stock bluefins.
As such, the EAC says that the western stock populations are likely only at 45 to 69 per cent of their already depleted 1974 levels.
While expert science advice states that the quota could be raised by 25 per cent to 2,500 tonnes this year, such a level would lead to further stock declines.
Western stock bluefins spawn in the Gulf of Mexico and swim up the eastern seaboard of the United States, using the Gulf Stream current, into Canadian waters to feed.
The News tried contacting local fisherman Ronnie Heighton for more information, but was unable to reach him before press deadline.