ANALYSIS - The eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna is showing some positive signs of recovery five years after the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) started setting catch limits more in line with science. However, long term recovery will need further management which could come from the full implementation of the electronic Bluefin Catch Documentation (eBCD), writes Lucy Towers, TheFishSite Editor.
Despite only a small recovery, many countries are pressuring for Atlantic bluefin catch limits to be increased again, in-line with population improvements.
However, Rachel Hopkins, Global Tuna Conservation, Pew Charitable Trusts, warns that if quotas are increased every time tuna populations increase then it will reverse the improvements made and will jeopardize the long term recovery.
Another problem hindering the recovery of the tuna stock is illegal fishing. A recent scientific study estimated that between 2008 and 2011, the actual catch of bluefin in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea exceeded the quota by 57 per cent due to illegal fishing.
One of the reasons that illegal fishing is taking place is due to the loopholes in the paper based Bluefin Catch Document. This system is slow - which makes it hard to trace fish and its loopholes allow for misreporting and fraud.
The new electronic Bluefin Catch Documentation from ICCAT could be the answer to stopping illegal fishing and providing more accurate data on tuna fishing and ranching.
The eBCD is an improvement on the paper based system as it limits user access to the system, allows for real-time reporting and prevents misreporting by closing the loopholes in the old system.
This electronic system was initially championed by the EU. However, the EU now wants to water the system down saying that it is too inconvenient and burdensome. The EU's new proposal says that all domestic traders within the EU will also not be required to use the new system unless they are trading outside the EU.
Without the EU's support, the electronic system could fall apart as they were the main advocates. It is hugely important that a full electronic system is implemented in the EU as 59 per cent of the Eastern Atlantic tuna quota is in the EU and the system will greatly help in stopping illegal fishing, which the EU has voiced that it is working to prevent.
The world now waits to see if the EU will get back on track with the eBCD and implement it fully in March 2015.