Nova Scotia

Bluefin tuna fishing rules aim to reverse population decline

Bluefin tuna are especially vulnerable in the western Atlantic, including in the waters around Nova Scotia, but scientists hope new international rules will make the species more resilient to threats.

Experts hope new worldwide guidelines will adjust fishing quotas quickly

Bluefin tuna is especially vulnerable in the western Atlantic, including in the waters around Nova Scotia, conservationists say. (CBC)

New international rules around managing bluefin tuna populations aim to make the at-risk species more resilient to threats, scientists say.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, which governs tuna fishing worldwide, set new standards Tuesday for scientific consultation ahead of agreeing on fishing quotas by country. 

The new standards call for more long-term scientific planning to help the bluefin tuna population rebound. The commission hopes to reverse declining populations ahead of a complete species devastation, says Katie Schleit, a marine conservationist with the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.

"You're putting a yellow light in place as stocks start to decline," Schleit said Tuesday after the meeting in the  Mediterranean country of Malta. "Traditionally, stocks basically tanked and that's when actions were put in place."

The commission will set goals to increase the population, then track the population and adjust the amount fishermen can catch to meet those goals, using scientific input throughout the process.

Bluefin tuna is especially vulnerable in the western Atlantic, including in the waters around Nova Scotia. The population of bluefin tuna is less than half of what it was 45 years ago, when it was already low, Schleit said. 

New guidelines 'go a long way'

The commission also agreed to start electronically tracking bluefin tuna catches.

It's unclear how that will impact Canadian fishermen, but Rachel Hopkins, who researches the species for U.S.-based Pew Environment, says this should help stabilize the species, especially in the Mediterranean Sea.

"The paper system has loopholes that allow for misreporting and fraud, especially with a long history of illegal fishing in the eastern fishery," Hopkins said from Malta.

"Both of these go a long way to addressing the pressure that is on the Atlantic bluefin."

Conservationists hope these new methods of setting international quotas and tracking tuna sales will be used for other species. The commission agreed to something similar for the porbeagle shark, which frequents Canadian waters.


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