TRANSCRIPT - Victor Restrepo
Restrepo is the Head Scientist from the International Commission
for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna in Madrid, Spain.
Can you describe the general state of the blue fin tuna population
in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean and make some reference
to the changes they have been through in the last 20 years?
We currently assess two stocks that are managed separately. One
is the Western Atlantic, which is roughly the area west of Iceland.
The other one is in the extreme Atlantic, which includes the Mediterranean.
The Western stock was assessed and is considered to be over-fished.
It has been in a very depleted state for the last 20 years or so.
It is now managed under a very aggressive program with a very low
catch that was assigned to the members of the Commission. The Eastern
stock is assessed to be exploited at a higher rate than would be
sustainable over the long term but it is not assessed to be in a
depleted state, like the Western stock.
Is the East stock the one that spawns in the Mediterranean?
Are the blue fin tuna in danger of commercial extinction?
is difficult to say that that will be the case for blue fin tuna
because it is a species that gets a very high price in the market,
especially in the Japanese market. When a species gets such a high
price, there will always be techniques developed to improve its
ability to be caught, commercially. I'm not sure that will be the
case for all fishermen. It will be the case for some fishermen if
the current fishing pressure continues to increase.
What is the importance of the Mediterranean to the North Atlantic
blue fin tuna population, and the Eastern population?
the area where all blue fin tuna are known to spawn. The Mediterranean
is very important to the North Atlantic tuna stock, especially the
Eastern stock because the Mediterranean is the area, the only known
spawning area, of this stock. It's also important for the Western
stock because there is a lot of mixing between these two populations
that is known to occur. What happens in our end of the ocean is
not completely independent of what happens in the other.
Have international treaties like ICAT been successful or unsuccessful
in conserving the blue fin tuna stocks?
am not sure they have been unsuccessful. I am not sure what the
situation would have been like if there had been no conventions.
This mechanism, with a highly migratory species, is the only one
that can get the scientists to collaborate together, to put the
databases together necessary to conduct the assessments. It's the
only mechanism that can get the politicians to agree on what should
be the shares for the different countries. Without conventions like
this, without bodies like this, the situation would doubtlessly
be much worse, if you think that the current state is disastrous.
Have the quotas been observed? If the quotas have been set, why
are the stocks declining?
this is the case for most fisheries in the world, when they are
set; it's usually because the stocks are already quite depleted.
Very few fisheries are managed with quotas from the start. So I'm
not sure that one is a prerequisite of the other.
To what degree has over-fishing in the Mediterranean been a factor
in putting pressure on blue fin tuna? If it's an important area
for spawning, is there a correlation there?
fishing in the Mediterranean has existed for over two thousand years,
and very high levels of fishing have been in existence for the last
four hundred years or so. The current assessment of the Mediterranean
and Eastern stock does not indicate that the population has declined
tremendously. Between 1970 and now there are almost undetectable
changes, given what we have in terms of data. There are criticisms
with the data and there are great uncertainties about the quality
of this data.
scientists are very uncertain about the assessment but nevertheless,
given the data that we have, there is no demise of the Eastern Atlantic
stock. We believe the current landings, the catches of the Mediterranean
blue fin, are too high, especially on a small fish to be sustainable
in the long-term. What the scientists are predicting is that this
stock will be in trouble sometime in the future. When you talk to
people like Carl about the demise of the Blue Fin stock, that talk
is usually focused on the Western Atlantic, not the Eastern.
Critics of blue fin tuna farming are concerned that the capture
of blue fin tuna by French fishing vessels is less regulated than
the other fisheries. Maybe it's not passing through the market the
way it's supposed to, or the landings are not reported, I'm not
sure. Do you know something about that?
have heard criticism about this, in general. Nothing can be attributed
to any one particular country. What scientists are concerned about
is the data. The quality of the data that ICAT obtains, ultimately
for stock assessments, has been deteriorated. Now instead of the
landing fish going through a port where it can be sampled, the fish
are measured, weighted, sampled and the live fish go directly to
agricultural operations where they cannot be easily monitored or
sampled. There has been a large deterioration in the data set. This
is not attributable to one particular country; there are several
countries that fish with purse seining in the Mediterranean.
What about vessels fishing outside ICAT, with flags of convenience?
To what degree is this still a problem in the Mediterranean?
problem of vessels flying flags of convenience, which carry out
illegal or unreported and unrelated fishing, is a worldwide problem.
Especially because these vehicles have very large mobility, and
they can change names, and licenses and flags very, very quickly.
They can move from one ocean to the other very quickly and they
can be a problem in the Mediterranean, one day, and a problem in
the Indian Ocean another.
Some tuna farmers have suggested that the higher prices they pay
for live tuna helps to
eliminate over-fishing because fishermen are
fishing for dollars not for tuna. The fishermen are then able to
make more money. Therefore they are not out chasing after the stocks
indefinitely to make their money. What do you think?
am not prepared to comment on the question of the economics of aquaculture
operations or even wild capture fisheries operations because that
is really a nonscientific subject. As far as ICAT is concerned,
what is managed is the quantity of fish in tons that is caught live
from the ocean. What happens to these fish afterwards or who catches
them, it's sometimes a concern of the national members, the countries
that are members of ICAT, but it is not a concern of the organization
To what degree do subsidies, either with the aquaculture or with
vessels fishing wild stocks, affect industries?
question of subsidies is also a question that is not related directly
to the ICAT as a whole. However, if there are recommendations to
reduce the pressure, the fishing pressure on a given stock, subsidies
that help increase fishing effort would be against the philosophy
of such recommendations, in an indirect way.
Will the capture of prey species for the farms, like Anchovy and
Sardines in the Mediterranean, deprive wild stocks of blue fin tuna,
the food they need? Will there be problems with the growth of this
aquaculture industry in terms of the ability of the Eastern populations
to rebound or maintain their numbers?
is difficult to say whether the use of bait fish, essentially to
feed Blue Fin in aquaculture operations would have an effect either
on the ecosystem or on the Blue Fin tuna stock. First of all, we
need quantitative assessment to see what the status of those populations
is of fish. I do not know that such assessments have been made.
What one could suppose is that any take of any fish could have some
impact on the ecosystem but its difficult to say at what level this
impact will be. Nevertheless some people are worried that there
is a lot of pressure to catch large quantities of small fish, not
only in the Mediterranean but in other areas as well, like in the
Atlantic. That is a concern, but it is difficult to jump to any
conclusions that would be backed up by any quantitative science.
If studies are not being done, or that is outside of the purview
of what ICAT does, is anyone looking into this? Is there any scientific
body that can look into this, like the European Union fishery folks?
are international commissioners that need to assess or have in their
mandate the assessment of different kinds of species. In the Mediterranean,
it's the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, which
has only started fairly recently to conduct assessments for the
stocks that move between national boundaries. However many of these
species you have been referring to are coastal in nature in which
case it would be the responsibilities of the countries to assess
and manage them. How they allocate the use of those resources would
be, in many cases, the decision of the national governments. Whether
those resources would be left to feed wild tuna, to feed tuna in
aquacultural operations, to make pellet food for other types of
hatcheries, or to feed ducks would be a societal problem for those
countries to assess.
Some of the farmers we spoke with feel their best hope is to grow
the small fish and release them back out into the Mediterranean
to repopulate the declining wild populations. What do you think
question of feeding wild stocks with hatchery grown larvae is an
idea that has been around in marine biology for many, many years
and it sounds very nice theoretically. I am not sure of any experience
in the world where this has worked well, except in rivers of course.
In the ocean, many of these animals are subject to extremely high
natural mortality variations. So even though this would be theoretically
possible, the costs, with the current know how that we have today,
are just too high.
What percentage of Blue Fin Tuna on the world market is farm-raised?
I don't know, I'd rather not comment.
Any other comments you'd like to make Victor, regarding blue fin
tuna? Any hopes you might have that aquaculture can, one day, help
take pressure off of their over exploited populations?
is a lot of concern with the exploitation of blue fin tuna as a
whole. A lot of focus has been placed now on aquaculture because
they have been growing very rapidly and they have been replacing
some of the other practices. The value concern is not to look so
much at how the fish are being taken but rather how many fish are
taken and whether that catch is sustainable or not. Whether the
fish are going to go to a sushi-like market or whether they are
going to be camped or used for fuel or whatever use they might get,
the question is how much are the wild stocks receiving pressure
that are not sustainable in the long term.
should be the real focus. There is too much hope in the notion that
some day in the future of aquacultural operations, when they are
closed systems and produce larvae, will take pressure off fishing
of blue fin tuna stocks. We shouldn't lose track of the fact that
right now the catches are too high for the different stocks. We
shouldn't place too much of this hope on future operations, we should
be concerned about the current state of the fisheries. Fishery resources
are societal concerns and how the fish are used are not necessarily
a concern of only one particular organization, it's a societal issue.
What do you mean by that?
allocation of fishery resources can sometimes be a very political
issue, and right now the aquacultural operations have been growing
very rapidly; it's almost like a gold rush. They are very successful.
Of course, when one group of users is very successful, it may happen
at the expense of the success of another group. Ultimately the allocation
of which group or subgroup is going to be successful or not is a
societal issue. It's something that politicians have to face and
it's a very tough job to decide who gets to use the resource.