MSC pre-assessments of bluefin tuna fisheries in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea

The Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) is one of the open ocean’s fastest, strongest predators and the largest of the tuna species, reaching weights of up to 900 kg and lengths of nearly 4 m. Bluefin tuna is a highly prized fish, very demanded by the sushi and sashimi market in Japan and other countries. The species is targeted by several small- and large-scale fisheries throughout its range but most of the catches are taken from the Mediterranean Sea where the species migrates every year for spawning. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) is the organization responsible for the management and conservation of bluefin tuna (and other tuna and tuna-like species) in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas. Due to the heavy exploitation, bluefin tuna was considered overfished and in 2006 the ICCAT adopted a 15-year recovery plan for the species in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean, which included a series of management measures to recover the species to healthy levels. Although the species is still considered near threatened (NT) by the IUCN, the Eastern bluefin tuna stock has improved in recent years and the Total allowance Catch (TAC) has increased by 60% since 2014.

In 2018, we were hired by two different Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs), accredited to carry out Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) fisheries certification assessments to pre-evaluate two bluefin tuna pole and line fisheries in the East Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Our first task was to undertook an in-depth desktop-based literature research and contact relevant stakeholders to collect all the available information about these fisheries, identifying volumes landed, fishing methods used, fishing areas, impacts on bycatch species, management measures implemented, etc. Later, we travelled to Spain to meet these stakeholders to collect and clarify some of missing/unclear information. Then we assessed the fishery, scoring each of the scoring issues under the three principles of the MSC standards: P1, target stock; P2, impact on bycatch species, habitats and ecosystem; and P3, management. The results of these pre-assessments are confidential but we found, that although the stock of bluefin tuna has improved in recent years, a series of management issues need to be addressed before these fisheries are ready for a full MSC assessment.

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