Over twice as much of the rare eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean is traded than catch quotas allow for, according to a scientific study released Tuesday, further threatening the survival of the dinnertime favourite at sushi bars across the globe.
The Pew Environment Group said that the 141 per cent gap between the two last year does not even take into account the black market, which would further highlight the extreme pressure the stocks of one of the world's most expensive fish are under in the Mediterranean.
Pew bluefin tuna expert Lee Crockett said that "the bluefin trade is rife with fraud and misinformation," and called for a change from a corruption-prone paper trail of documents to full electronic boat-to-chopsticks surveillance of the trade by the time the 2012 season opens.
Pew said that the tuna trade above and beyond the catch quotas over the past dozen years amounts to over $2.7 billion.
EU proposes electronic tracking to monitor trade
The European Union's executive commission immediately underscored the problems regarding the reporting of catches and said it would table a proposal for such electronic surveillance at the Nov. 11-19 meeting of International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas in Istanbul.
In the face of commercial extinction, "the question is 'how to change,' and we believe that having an electronic way is better and more efficient," said EU Commission spokesman Oliver Drewes.
Pew said an electronic tracking system could give a bar code to each bluefin caught which would allow the fish to be followed from when it lands on deck to when it reaches the overseas consumers.
'An electronic system would provide more accurate information that could be easily shared and cross-checked instantly.' —Lee Crockett, Pew bluefin tuna expert
"An electronic system would provide more accurate information that could be easily shared and cross-checked instantly," Crockett said.
The bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic has become an emblematic fish highlighting the collapse of stocks around the world. A staple of Mediterranean people going back to antiquity, it is now so rare that there was talk to declare it an endangered species.
The warm-blooded bluefin tuna migrates across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and is prized for its fatty tender red meat, served either raw or momentarily grilled.
Because of its popularity, the Mediterranean stocks have collapsed by some 80 per cent over the past 35 years.