Pablo Xandri is the Director for the Conservation Program of the WWF Adena in Madrid, Spain.


Can you describe the state of the red tuna population in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic?

The first problem we found is a lack of transparency in the data regarding these populations. It's not easy to know the status. What we do know with some certainty is based on data from 1998, which says that the population is down to thirty percent of what it was thirty years ago in 1970. This means that it has decreased by eighty percent. The most recent census, from last year is still not public. It appears from the preliminary data that the situation is worse. But the official figures are not yet public and there is a lack of transparency in these figures.

Many people hope that fish farming can alleviate the pressure on marine fish stocks. Do you think the farms that cultivate red tuna are alleviating this pressure?

We also think that it can be a solution to alleviate the problems of over-fishing, but currently, they are not providing a real solution because they are not growing tuna on the farms. The Tuna are being caught from the wild and placed on the farms and being fattened on the farm. They are still cutting into the wild population. It is not a closed water farming cycle that is breeding and reproducing the tuna; rather they are capturing them outside. The farms are increasing pressure on the wild stocks. We have to investigate it more. The ideal would be that the cycle is closed, but currently, that situation does not exist.

Some people say the farms benefit coastal communities in the Mediterranean, while others say only a few companies are benefited. What do you think?

The farms are not benefiting traditional and artesian fishermen of the communities, given that the tunas are taken from the wild for industrial purposes. Many times they belong to the very same owners of the farms, and in some cases, other foreign countries. It is true that it is benefiting a certain segment of the coastal communities, but this part of the coastal community does not consist of traditional fishermen.

Are the farms that cultivate red tuna alleviating the pressure on the wild fish population?

Currently, what they are doing is exactly the opposite. They are increasing the pressure on the wild tuna stock given that these tunas are not created on the farm. They are fattened up on the farms, but caught in the wild and transported by large boats to the farms. Perhaps in 20 or 30 years, enough will be known about the biology of tuna so that they can be bred, but currently the pressure on the wild stock is increasing.

Are the capture of anchovy, mackerel, and sardine of the Mediterranean, which are chosen for feeding to the cultivated tuna fish, not regulated?

There are many problems that we have detected in the field. These problems, with regard to reporting the capture of anchovy and sardines, do not pass. We have seen that they do not pass into the market, so we can't really know the impact that this is having. This is a big problem. The Adriatic anchovy has collapsed as a population and has contributed precisely to the tuna farms. This is a concrete fact in the field. There must be a better evaluation of how this is encroaching on these small feeding fish.

Are anchovy and sardine important to the Mediterranean ecosystems?

These species are the foundation. Anchovy, sardine, and mackerel are the base of the ecosystem in the Mediterranean. Given that they are food for predators, not only of tuna, but also sharks, etc., they are the foundation. When we are capturing tuna from the wild, which has such a low stock, we are encroaching on the functioning of the wild ecosystems whose effect it is very difficult to predict.

Some critics of the farms, say that it's a waste of resource, they say that for each kilogram of cultivated tuna, they need twenty pounds of food. What do you think?

With the current technology and with the food they are given, this is a great example of the impacts on wild populations. For every twenty mackerel, for every twenty sardines, only one is used, which means there is a loss of the remaining nineteen from the wild population. This is a clear example of the impact on the ecosystems and on the populations, since there is an incredible loss in the manner that they are doing things currently.

Some farmers believe that the motive for reproducing tuna is to replenish them back into the ocean. Others believe they can grow them for the market. What do you think about the efforts to reproduce tuna?

It is interesting. It should be studied. The technology involved in reproducing tuna should come to fruition in the future. But currently what is being shown is that the farming, which they are doing, is not correct. The fish are not being released into the wild, they are simply being captured, fattened and sold. What is being witnessed is the situation of one of the species most threatened in our oceans, the red tuna of the Mediterranean. If this is not further researched and if they do not understand the biology of this species better, it is not enough to fantasize that we are actually saving the species. In fact, it's just the reverse; it is producing a very grave situation.

Why are cultivated fish being fed fish from diverse locations? Is there a possibility of contamination?

What is missing right now is regulation of this type of activity. They are not only capturing red tuna populations from all over the Mediterranean, they are also capturing tuna from France, Italy, and Spain. They are bringing their food, these small feeding fish, sardine, mackerel, and anchovy, from all over. This is causing disturbances in the places where they are grown and where they are extracted in the wild community. With the farms, it's like an intense production that is being generated in that zone and has an impact on the local environment. But at the same time, they are bringing populations from outside that we have no idea how they will interact with the local ecosystem.

Precisely for this reason, WWF is asking for a moratorium to stop new installations until they know more about all these impacts. Also until they can say where farms should be located, and where they should not be located. They are setting up farms without any control. They should know about the evolutionary biology of the tuna so that this closed cycle production would be a guarantee. We need to stop these new installations, which until now, have not been controlled at all.

Can you provide any commentary on the subsidies that the farmers are receiving and whether these subsidies are causing excessive over-fishing?

The activity is currently catalogued as fish farming, the creation of fish. When in reality it's not the creating of fish, it's an open cycle, it's a capture from the outside, it's grown, and then sold. Therefore it's a fabrication that it's fish farming. The activity is a fabrication. If they make a better ship, they will catch tuna, and they will receive double financing. The financing will be for the capture of fish, in the form of the ships, and for the installations of the cages, etc. for the farming. In receiving public funds and funds from Europe itself, we should be very rigorous in asking for an environmental assessment of how these funds are being used for something that really is not fish farming.

Do you think tuna farming is an inappropriate use of public funds?

The resource of tuna is a grand resource that can produce a lot of wealth. It is also a public asset, a common asset, and because it is a public asset, it must be protected. This means that under the current conditions, the population is 20% of what it was 30 years ago, which is really a grave situation. In five to ten years, the wild tuna population can collapse; it will not be able to reproduce any more and cannot be recovered. Now is the moment, as a public asset, that all methods for saving will be put into place to preserve it. Solutions that appear to be really good, like the moratorium should be placed on installations, in reality are making the situation worse. As a public recourse, we should be more demanding. For that reason, our organization has really become involved to paralyze new exploitations until there is a really effective plan for recovering the tuna population.

Is there anything else you would like to comment on?

With regard to the recuperation of red tuna in the Mediterranean, there is a need to create a protected zone for the raising of this tuna, an area where they cannot be fished. There must be a stronger demand that there be a control regarding this form of fishing. It is having a negative effect on the populations. All public money that comes from the European Union and from the administrations will have to be concretely evaluated in terms of the environmental effect that the activities are having on public resources. One key question is within the reports. They are changing; they are distorting the reports that they are making on the capture of tuna. This is a fact, which we have been able to prove.

The reports in France, for example, have been blocked, because they are not providing them; the fishermen are not giving them to the scientists. Why? Because they have seen that there has been a terrible increase in the capture of wild tuna for tuna farms. They are not reporting accurately because the tuna farms are overexploiting the tuna. They prefer not to give this data to the scientists. This is especially worrisome since we are going to find ourselves without the data to control the population. We believe we have to look at the way reports are being given. We'd like to see a specific category within the reports for the tuna that goes to the farms.