Nova Scotia

Canada and other fishing nations failing to protect bigeye tuna, environmentalists say

Canada and dozens of other fishing nations have failed to deliver measures to protect one of the most important and overfished species in the Atlantic — bigeye tuna.

International commission failed to trim the quota allotted for tuna fishing in Canada, other countries

Bigeye tuna line the floor of the United Fishing Agency's auction house in Hawaii. An international commission on the tuna industry has not been able to agree on protection measures for the species. (The Associated Press)

Canada and dozens of other fishing nations have failed to deliver measures to protect one of the most important and overfished species in the Atlantic Ocean — bigeye tuna.

An eight-day meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas held in Dubrovnik, Croatia, was ended without agreement on a key objective of the meeting: setting quotas for bigeye tuna and other open ocean species that cross international boundaries.

"We need to revamp global fishery management — these international fisheries are clearly not being managed well," said Shannon Arnold of the Halifax-based environmental group Ecology Action Centre. "We are hitting roadblocks everywhere and countries are actually in gridlock with each other."

Arnold attended the meeting, which she and other conservation groups have characterized as a failure.

A global scale

The commission manages Atlantic tuna, swordfish and marlin fisheries as well as bycatch of sharks, sea turtles and marine mammals.

While not a big earner in Canada, bigeye is a backbone of the global tuna cannery industry.

Only about 300 tonnes of bigeye is caught in Eastern Canada by Nova Scotia's longline swordfish fleet.

The Nova Scotia fleet catches larger bigeye, which can sell for $15-$17 a pound in Japan if the fish weighs more than 60 pounds.

Canada is entitled to catch 1,575 tonnes.

Like other developed countries, Canada was unwilling to give up any of its share to developing nations who are demanding access to bigeye, Arnold said. 

Changing the quota became a major source of disagreement, she said.

Canadian bluefin unchanged

The quota for the Western bluefin tuna also remains unchanged.

In Canada, it stands at about 515 tonnes.

The commission divides bluefin into two separate management populations — eastern or Mediterranean and then western bluefin, which is fished by Canada.

Last month, Europol busted a large illegal bluefin market in southern Europe, arresting 79 people and seizing 80,000 kilograms of bluefin of illicit origin.

Research has established that western and eastern tuna populations mix, which means lax measures for eastern tuna could affect tuna fishermen in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Arnold said.

"If we are letting the eastern bluefin countries get away with this type of risky management measures then, ultimately, the western fishing industry also takes a hit off this," say Arnold.

On the positive side

The commission did adopt stronger measures on vessel monitoring to combat illegal fishing.

Those who use a type of net called a purse seine, a net with a sort of drawstring, are now required to transmit their locations at least every hour.

"While we are disappointed by [the commission's] failure to end overfishing, [it] has made some real progress on efforts to fight illegal fishing," said Peter Horn, of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

"By improving its regulations on Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS), including by shortening reporting times for active fishing vessels, tightening notification requirements, and expanding VMS requirements to include smaller vessels by 2020 ... standards for vessel tracking have risen significantly," Horn said in a release.

The commission is also moving forward with a plan to incorporate science-based fishing strategies in the management of Atlantic bluefin.

About the Author

Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.