By Humphrey Carter and Pete Harrison

YESTERDAY'S announcement by the European Union that industrial fishing of the endangered bluefin tuna was banned from midnight last night for the rest of this season, after fishermen exhausted their quotas, was welcomed by Palma Aquarium which has launched a regional and global campaign for a ban on bluefin tuna fishing.

Debora Morrison, the British-born Community Education Manager at the Aquarium described the news as “brilliant” when it was broken to her by the Bulletin yesterday afternoon.

The most important breeding ground for bluefin tuna in the world is to the south of the Balearics and while the Aquarium has been pushing for a ban on industrial fishing the Balearic government, along with Bulletin and scores of other local and international organisations and associations, have given its full backing to calls for the breeding area to be declared a marine reserve.

The Aquarium has been warning that stocks of the Atlantic bluefin - which can fetch $100'000 each at market - have fallen by around 80 percent over the last 40 years and continued overfishing threatens their survival.

Morrison explained that the problem is that due to growing demand, especially from the Far East, the tuna are either being caught before they can return to the Balearic breeding ground or too soon after they spawn and either head west, to the Atlantic, or further east into the Mediterranean.

She said that around 80 percent of all tuna caught in the Mediterranean is destined for the Far East.
High-tech fishing vessels using echo-sounders and sometimes spotter planes have become so efficient at locating and netting the giant creatures in “purse seine” nets that a season's quota can be met in just 10 days.

The current season began on May 16 and ends on June 14.
Most of the tuna are sent to Japan, where they are prized by sushi lovers. “The closure of the purse seine fishery is necessary to protect the fragile stock of bluefin tuna and to ensure its recovery,” a spokesman for EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said. France has sent out 17 purse seine vessels this year, while Spain has sent out six and Greece one.

CLASHES AT SEA “France, Greece and Spain have been informed of this decision, which becomes effective as of midnight tonight,” added the spokesman, Oliver Drewes.
Small-scale fishing with hooks and spears will be allowed to continue for the moment.
The warm-blooded bluefin is known for its size and speed, reaching weights of over 600 kg (1'320 lb) - heavier than an average horse - and accelerating faster than a sports car to reach top speeds of around 70 km/h (44 mph).

European Union countries agreed in March to propose listing bluefin as an endangered species at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a move that would effectively end the hunt.

But while Japan was effective in building a coalition to oppose a CITES ban on trading bluefin, the EU's common position fell into disarray during negotiations.

This year's hunt was more emotive than ever, with activists seeing it as one of their last chances to save the giant fish.
At one point, Greenpeace campaigners tried to submerge a net to free the fish trapped inside, and in the ensuing clash with fishermen an activist was hooked through the leg and injured. “Bluefin tuna is on the brink of extinction, and fishing should never have taken place this year,” Greenpeace campaigner Oliver Knowles said in a statement from the group's Rainbow Warrior flagship.

Greenpeace said European fishermen would continue the hunt anyway, using ships flying non-European flags of convenience to circumvent the rules.
But Commission spokesman Drewes countered: “The Commission has declared a zero-tolerance approach towards overfishing and will take all necessary measures to ensure full compliance across the board.”