Growth of sushi bars 'driving tuna to extinction'

Commercial fishing for bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic should be halted immediately or the species will become extinct, the World Wide Fund for Nature says.

Stocks are being stripped bare by unscrupulous fishing which is exceeding legal quotas, WWF says in a report highlighting the soaring demand for the fish, fuelled in part by the growing popularity of sushi bars.

Widespread violations of fisheries rules mean a significant share of bluefin tuna caught in Mediterranean waters qualifies as illegal, unregulated and unreported production - most of it by the industrial purse seine net vessels of EU fleets.

Catches are more than 40 per cent higher than the quota set by the 42-nation International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (Iccat), and industrial fleets are now plundering the last remaining breeding grounds in the Mediterranean off the coasts of Libya, Cyprus and Egypt, the report says. "Fleets from the EU (especially France), Libya and Turkey are responsible for most of these illegal, unregulated and unreported catches."

WWF concludes: "The fishery should be closed immediately, and a strong recovery plan and strict management measures must be agreed this year - or we will most likely face the total commercial and biological extinction of the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna."

Iccat's annual fishing quota of 32,000 tons was breached by more than 40 per cent in 2004 with a catch of 44,948 tons, rising to 45,547 in 2005. The real catch is probably at least 50,000 tons.