Fishermen challenge need for tuna ban

Prince Edward Island fishermen say a proposed ban on bluefin tuna exports is unfair and unlikely to help tuna stocks.

Prince Edward Island fishermen say a proposed ban on bluefin tuna exports is unfair and unlikely to improve tuna stocks.

The European Union is pushing to have bluefin tuna placed on the endangered species list, which would make it ineligible for export. The World Wildlife Fund says tuna stocks are down as much as 90 per cent because of overfishing.

But in Canadian waters, this isn't the case, says Scott Bruce, an Island fisherman. Bluefin stocks have never been stronger in this part of the world, and an export ban probably won't help stocks elsewhere, Bruce said.

Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea told the P.E.I. Fishermen's Association on Friday night that Canada opposes the EU push for a ban.

"The federal government is behind us and knows exactly where we stand," Bruce said. "We know what they are trying to do.

P.E.I.'s commercial tuna quota is the largest in the Maritimes, with 286 licensed fishermen taking 138 metric tonnes a year. P.E.I. fishermen believe they have the most to lose from a ban.

They also find the potential ban "a bit of a joke," Bruce said, especially since other countries, particularly in the Mediterranean, will likely continue fishing large amounts of tuna.

"They are still able to catch the tuna and still able to consume it in their own country, where they do consume a fair bit," Bruce said. "While our fishery, which is a hook-and-line fishery compared to their seining fishery, is really going to be omitted from the fishery."

Canada exports most of the tuna caught by its fishermen, while other fishing nations consume most of what they take in.

Canada and 174 other countries will be asked to support a ban at the world conference of the Convention of the International Trade in Endangered Species in Qatar's capital of Doha from March 13-15.

The United Nations panel announced on Feb. 5 that it believed export of Atlantic bluefin tuna should be banned because of a drop of more than 80 per cent in stocks since the 19th century.

The International Commission on the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna cut the annual bluefin tuna catch to 13,500 tonnes, a drop of almost 40 per cent from 2009. The tuna, which is popular in sushi restaurants, can reach three metres long and weigh more than 650 kilograms.