Blue fin tuna in trouble

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Europe has joined the United States in a call to suspend commercial fishing for Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna. Many experts say the Blue Fin is seriously over fished. But as The World's Gerry Hadden reports, opponents have pledged to ignore any ban.

MARCO WERMAN: In Qatar this weekend an international commission that governs trade in endangered species will turn its attention to tuna. In particular, Atlantic Blue Fin tuna which most experts say is seriously overfished. Europe has joined the United States in a call to suspend commercial fishing for Atlantic Blue Fin, but opponents have pledged to ignore any ban. Here's more from The World's Gerry Hadden.

GERRY HADDEN: Just half a year ago the European Union rejected a moratorium on commercial blue fin fishing. But now, all 27 member states have accepted the growing scientific consensus that global blue fin stocks are on the verge of collapsing from overfishing. EU Fisheries Commissioner, Marie Demanki, said the blue fin should be listed as an endangered species.

MARIE DEMANKI: We have to do something. And what we really need to do is to accept the short term sacrifices. They will be short term sacrifices.

HADDEN: Those sacrifices are being debated beginning tomorrow in Qatar, where signatories to the United Nations convention on international trade and endangered species are meeting. Delegates appear poised to suspend commercial blue fin fishing and trade until stocks recover sufficiently, which could take years. Some Mediterranean countries, including Spain and France, have resisted a total halt to fishing. The fish means big money for them, but in recent weeks, they've come around, following reports that stocks have already declined by about 80%. Australia, though, is resisting the move as is the country that would be hardest hit by any moratorium, Japan. Japan currently imports between 80 and 90 percent of the world's blue fin. The proposal would idle its fishing boats, and halt its imports. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Hirofumi Hirano, says his country will do all it can to prevent a fishing ban. He says the point of the international treaty is to protect species, but I am not sure, personally, that it's necessary for the blue fin tuna. Japan insists better management of tuna stocks would be enough to keep them from collapsing and Hirano says his country will simply ignore any suspension of the fishery, which it has the right to do under the terms of another international treaty specific to tuna. But that pledge to continue to fishing doesn't satisfy Japanese tuna fishermen and vendors, who yesterday protested the possible international ban in Tokyo's biggest fish market. One protestor said if we were to only take large and mature fish, there wouldn't be a chance of them going extinct. A woman added I would like them to figure out a strategy that would prevent a ban and would allow them to catch a certain amount. Actually, such strategies have been in place for years and oversight and monitoring have gotten stricter with time. In Europe, for example, observers now count and measure blue fin tuna brought into the docks in an effort to ensure that quotas are not surpassed and that no young tuna have been caught. But marine scientists say the measures haven't worked. Maria Jose Cornax, with the Spanish conservation group Oceana, says last year boats in the Mediterranean caught four times more tuna than the limit allows. She says tuna boats from all over the world converge on the Mediterranean, and that makes it impossible to sort out what's really going on.

MARIA JOSE CORNAX: First of all, this kind of operations are very, very difficult to control in terms of who is fishing, for which quota this is applying and on another hand, which type boat is taking all that fish, where that fish is going, and just all the documents necessary for just controlling all this operation. It's chaos in the high seas.

HADDEN: If the blue fin fishery is closed, the blue fin will become one of just a handful of marine species currently under international protection. Whatever the decision, the work of the 175 member governments meeting in Qatar won't end with the tuna. They'll have their hands full dealing with proposals to protect a number of other species. Under study are several species of shark, the African elephant, and the polar bear. For The World, I'm Gerry Hadden in Barcelona.