January 26, 2010 11:07 pm

Italy backs ban on bluefin tuna trade

Japanese sushi lovers may see prized deliveries of fresh bluefin tuna taken off the menu this year following a surprise decision by Italy to support the listing of the giant migratory fish as an endangered species and ban its international trade.

Environmentalists applauded the reversal in Italy’s position which they saw as a big step forward to include bluefin tuna on appendix one of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species when Cites members meet in Doha in March.

Italy was among six European Union countries, including France and Spain, that refused last October to back a resolution sponsored by Monaco to save the bluefin tuna from possible extinction by overfishing.

Inclusion in the convention would prohibit international trade in bluefin tuna but not sales on domestic markets. Japan would be most affected as it imports some 90 per cent of all bluefin tuna caught in the Mediterranean May-June fishing season.

Mitsubishi Corp, the largest importer, would be hit most by the ban. But it would also benefit from the likely increase in the value of its large stocks of frozen tuna.

Antonio Buonfiglio, senior official for fisheries, yesterday confirmed to the FT that Italy had shifted its position and was “open” to an appendix one listing.

Italy’s move followed a decision last November by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna to reduce national catch quotas. Japan has a small quota, meaning that a few fresh tuna from the Mediterranean will still get to the table.

Italy will also impose a one-year moratorium on its purseiners – ships that use giant circular nets to scoop up entire shoals – and give them subsidies to stay in harbour. Purseiners also play a role in illegal and over-fishing across the Mediterranean.

“Italy has thousands of years of history of tuna fishing. We should all really praise Italy for this foresight. It is an extremely positive move,” commented Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group which lobbied for Cites inclusion.

The decision puts pressure on Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, to honour a pledge he made last July to back an appendix one listing, as did 21 EU states in October.

Opposition to a trade ban by the French fishing lobby and the agriculture ministry is mirrored within the European Commission;,Stavros Dimas, outgoing environment commissioner, in favour. He is opposed by Joe Borg, his fisheries counterpart. A final decision on a common EU position is expected soon.

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