EU closes bluefin tuna fishing season early

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The Independent Online

The European Commission on Tuesday announced an early end to the fishing season for the lucrative but endangered bluefin tuna, a mainstay of Japanese food, saying the allowable quotas had already been caught.

"The commission has declared a zero tolerance approach towards overfishing and will take all necessary measures to ensure full compliance across the board," the EU's executive arm said in a statement.

The summer season opened on June 1, but the commission announced that fishing the tuna with huge 'purse seine' nets would end at midnight, June 9, rather than the scheduled date of June 15.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki took the decision to end the fishing season early "due to the exhaustion of the quotas allocated to them."

Major tuna fishers France, Greece and Spain were informed of the decision.

"The closure of the purse seine fishery is necessary to protect the fragile stock of bluefin tuna and to ensure its recovery," the commission said.

French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said he was seeking "an explanation" from Brussels over its decision to close down the fishing season, saying it was unclear whether French fishermen had reached their quotas.

"The Commission has to either provide formal proof that French trawlers have fulfilled their quotas (...) or allow them to reach their legally-authorised quotas," Le Maire told the National Assembly in Paris.

Greenpeace campaigner Oliver Knowles, onboard the Rainbow Warrior on an expedition to save tuna in the Mediterranean, said: "Bluefin tuna is on the brink of extinction and fishing should never have taken place this year."

The decision to allow any bluefin tuna fishing this season was "another example of how politics have failed our oceans and the Mediterranean," he added.

The environmental group cites figures estimating that more than 80 percent of bluefin tuna have already been taken from the world's waters and the species "could disappear if fishing is not halted immediately.

Last week a Greenpeace activist trying to free tuna from a commercial fishing net in the Mediterranean was harpooned through the leg by fishermen on a French boat, the environmental group said.

Greenpeace had stationed two ships in the Mediterranean, the Rainbow Warrior and Arctic Sunrise, to confront tuna fishing boats during the short tuna fishing season.