EU halts bluefin fishing season early

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The European Commission brought an early end to the bluefin tuna fishing season yesterday saying that the quota allowed to be caught had already been fulfilled.

The summer season normally runs from 1-15 June, but the Commission said that depleting stocks meant the fishing for tuna by large European boats using the vast "purse seine" nets would end at midnight on 9 June.

Bluefin tuna caught in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic is overfished and in decline, according to environmentalists.

The fish is particularly prized in Japan, where high prices are paid for the key ingredient in sushi. Young tuna are usually caught alive to be fattened in Mediterranean fish farms before being sold.

Oliver Drewes, a spokesman for the European Commission, said the ban only affects large boats, which are responsible for most of the catch. It will hit primarily fishermen in France, Greece and Spain, but not affect boats based in Mediterranean countries that are not part of the EU, such as Turkey and Libya.

The environmental group Greenpeace said non-EU fishing fleets take around 40 per cent of the total catch. They claim the "tuna massacre" should have been banned entirely this year to allow the fish to recover from persistent overfishing.

"Bluefin tuna is on the brink of extinction and fishing should never have taken place," Greenpeace's Oliver Knowles said.