No appetite for tuna at CITES


Bluefin tuna are highly valued, being especially prized for use in sashimi in Japan which is the main trade destination for bluefin catches. Atlantic bluefin tuna have been the object of polarised views on whether the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has a role in regulating international trade in commercially exploited marine fish.


Bluefin tuna © Lunamarina/

A proposal made by Monaco to the 15th Conference of the Parties to CITES in Doha in March would have banned commercial trade in bluefin tuna in an attempt to enable stocks to recover.  The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT), the fisheries body responsible for their management, is widely viewed to have failed to conserve stocks by setting quotas at levels which exceeded those advised by scientists. In turn, these quotas were routinely exceeded by fishermen with, at times, the legal and illegal catches estimated as being comparable in size to one another.


JNCC, as part of the UK delegation, advised Defra on these and other proposals to the Conference of the Parties in our role as UK CITES Scientific Authority for animals. Our view that bluefin tuna met the CITES listing criteria was endorsed by ICCAT’s own scientific committee. Both the west and east Atlantic bluefin populations are almost certain to have fallen to below 15% of their estimated biomass before fisheries began, with an associated risk of stock collapse. Despite UK support for the proposal and an EU attempt at finding a compromise, the Conference voted strongly against listing bluefin tuna. It now falls to ICCAT to fulfil its responsibilities to enable stocks to recover; in November 2009 it adopted revised management plans. But this is not the first time that bluefin tuna have been considered by CITES – a listing proposal by Sweden in 1992 was withdrawn because ICCAT was committed then to re-building stocks.


Ultimately, the Conference did not list any marine species. Other proposals to list several species of sharks and red corals in CITES also failed and the relationship between CITES and commercial fisheries management remains controversial. Accordingly, JNCC plans this year to look in more detail at the role of CITES in regulating trade in commercially exploited fish and invertebrates. By exploring where, if and how CITES might best complement fisheries management it may help to avoid the polarisation which has characterised recent debates.


Contact File


Vin Fleming

Head of Global Advice

Tel: +44 (0)1733 866870

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