The Associated Press November 27, 2010, 1:02PM ET

Sharks protected; status quo for bluefin tuna

An international conservation conference in Paris made progress Saturday on protecting threatened Atlantic sharks but didn't do enough to protect bluefin tuna, a victim of severe overfishing because it is popular in Japan in sushi, environmental groups said.

Delegates from 48 fishing nations agreed to cut the bluefin fishing quota in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean from 13,500 metric tons annually to 12,900 tons -- about a 4 percent reduction.

Environmental groups had hoped to see the 2011 quota slashed or suspended entirely, saying illegal fishing is rampant in the Mediterranean and scientists don't have good enough data to evaluate the problem.

Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group, said the tuna decision was "quite disappointing."

"They're ignoring all the information on fraud, illegal trade and laundering by agreeing to only a tiny reduction," she told The Associated Press.

WWF, Greenpeace and Oceana also criticized the decision by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or ICCAT, which sets regulations on fishing of tuna and other species that have traditionally been accidental catches for tuna fishermen in the Atlantic and Mediterranean.

"The word 'conservation' should be removed from ICCAT's name," Greenpeace oceans activist Oliver Knowles said.

Japan buys nearly 80 percent of the annual Atlantic bluefin catch. Top-grade sushi with fatty bluefin can go for as much as 2,000 yen ($24) a piece in high-end Tokyo restaurants.

Earlier Saturday, commission delegates agreed to protect Atlantic sharks, which are increasingly targeted by fishermen eager to tap into the growing market in Asia for a delicacy made from the predators' fins. Conservation experts said the moves were a step in the right direction but had hoped for more.

The international commission banned fishermen from catching and retaining oceanic whitetip sharks. It also voted to limit the catch of several types of hammerhead sharks and to require countries to keep data on shortfin mako sharks, the groups said.

The measures will bolster what environmentalists say are disastrously inadequate rules on shark capture. While there are elaborate international fishing regulations and quotas for other types of fish, sharks have long been an afterthought, though some species have declined by 99 percent, Oceana said.

Going into the meeting, only one shark species was under international protection in the Atlantic -- the bigeye thresher.

Experts say the rise of Asia's middle class, combined with the continent's penchant for pricey shark fin soup, a traditional delicacy, has turned sharks into a lucrative target for fishermen.


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