Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Conservationists Concerned after Catch Limit for Bluefin Tuna Increased

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Conservationists Concerned after Catch Limit for Bluefin Tuna Increased

Article excerpt

Catch limit increased for bluefin tuna

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A decision by an international regulator to increase catch limits for the endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna won praise from the Canadian government Monday, but a Nova Scotia ecology group says the move could hurt a species once devastated by overfishing.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, meeting for the past week in Genoa, Italy, said the annual catch limit for the western population of the lucrative species will rise from 1,750 tonnes to 2,000 tonnes next year and stay at that level in 2016.

Katie Schleit of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax said the 15-per-cent increase, supported by the Canadian government, could hinder recovery of the big, fast fish.

"It seems like a really short-sighted decision given where the population level is," she said in an interview from Genoa. "As far as the western population is concerned, we still have a long way to recovery."

Scientists monitoring bluefin tuna in the western Atlantic since the 1970s say overfishing reduced the population to one-fifth of its size by the late 1990s, when strict conservation measures were introduced.

Since then, the population has grown to about half its size in the '70s, with a recent study for the commission confirming that a recovery is underway.

American fisheries scientist Clay Porch, who led the commission's western stock assessment, has described the findings as the most optimistic seen in years.

"However, there is a lot of scientific uncertainty around that estimate, and the true numbers may be lower," he said in online post for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "So there's reason to be optimistic, but there's also reason to be very cautious regarding the question of catch limits."

Schleit says that's why conservationists had wanted the limit to remain frozen.

"We're still at 55 per cent of 1970s levels, and the '70s were already at a time when the stock was depleted," said Schleit, adding that the mixing of the populations from the western and eastern Atlantic has contributed to a higher degree of uncertainty.

"This is all the more reason to keep the quota where it is. …

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