Conservation group supports call for bluefin tuna trade ban

The future of the bluefin tuna could be decided within days, along with two other endangered fish, the spiny dogfish and porbeagle, according to a national conservation charity.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) said the northern Atlantic bluefin tuna, Thunnus thynnus, considered to be one of the most majestic species living in European waters, has been fished for centuries, and the effects have taken their toll.

Northern bluefin, which can reach more than 3m in length, is now classed as endangered in the Eastern Atlantic by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the same rating as orang-utans and tigers.

Members of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (Cites) will meet on Saturday, to discuss which species should be added to their appendices.

The MCS, along with several EU countries, including the UK, is backing a proposal from Monaco to add the bluefin tuna to Appendix I, effectively banning all international trade.

There could, however, be some resistance to the listing, the MCS said, as the market remains strong in Japan where the tuna is used in sushi and sashimi. The trade has driven the species to the brink of extinction, resulting in prices so high that one fish recently sold for around £111,000.

France, which has a big tuna fishery industry, may also be less than happy with a ban, according to the society.

Sam Wilding, MCS fisheries officer, said bluefin tuna was listed as a 'fish to avoid' on the MCS consumer recommendation lists, due to the dramatic decline in stocks over recent years, and the ineffectiveness of the management of this fishery.

He added: "Also on the MCS fish to avoid list are the porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus) and the spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthias).

"These species have also been proposed by Germany, for a listing on Cites Appendix II, which will help control trade. Both of these species are characterised by slow growth, late maturity and high longevity - characteristics that make them highly vulnerable to fishing pressure."

Many shark species are targeted for their fins, meat and for other products including cosmetics, animal feed and dietary supplements. When such species become over-fished, MCS said, it can take decades for stocks to recover, if indeed they recover at all.

Mr Wilding believes the Cites meeting is an opportunity for the world to take a stand and stop the overfishing of these endangered species.

He added: "These opportunities do not come around that often, and it is time for the majority to stand up to the minority that gain so much economic benefit from driving species towards the brink of extinction.

"MCS urges consumers to help, by avoiding all fish on our red list and to ask where your tuna comes from to ensure it's sustainable."