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Last Updated: Friday, 26 January 2007, 10:21 GMT
Tuna groups tackle overfishing
A tuna swimming, NOAA
Conservationists say tuna is facing commercial extinction
The first international plan to try to stop the overfishing of tuna has been adopted by regulators meeting in Japan.

The plan called for better monitoring and co-ordination across regions, as well as action against illegal fishing.

Delegates from the world's five tuna bodies called the plan a first step towards arresting a decline in stocks.

But conservationists said the measures were not enough, blaming illegal and unregulated fishing and unsustainable quotas for tuna's dramatic decline.

Japan called the five-day meeting in the western city of Kobe.

The country consumes a quarter of the world's tuna and a rise in the popularity of Japanese food has had a further affect on stocks.

'Big step'

The plan, agreed by delegates from 60 countries, recognised "the critical need to arrest further stock decline in the case of depleted stocks (and) maintain and rebuild tuna stocks to sustainable levels."

Tuna cuts in restaurant cabinet. Image: AP
Bluefin tuna is a delicacy prized in Japan's sushi restaurants

It called for a coordinated effort to monitor the tuna trade, including tagging fish to assess catch sizes, and broader sharing of information about vessels fishing illegally.

Participants also committed to cooperation through regional fisheries management organisations.

"Maybe the steps we made this week seem small, but this is a big step, a historical step, I think," Masanori Miyahara of Japan's Fisheries Agency said.

But conservation groups were less positive.

'Inaction'

World Wildlife Fund International said the delegates failed to agree on "concrete action".

Graph showing growth in tuna catch 1950-2000 (FAO)

"Their only agreement was to gather more data and talk more often," it said in a statement on its website.

"WWF believes this inaction will result in further depletion of tuna populations, degradation of the oceans, loss of tuna to eat, and ultimately to a loss of livelihoods across the world."

But David Balton, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for oceans and fisheries, said that just having the meeting of the five regulatory bodies was a "very significant development".

"The true test will come not at this meeting but the way these commitments made here in Kobe are actually translated into actions," he told the French news agency AFP.

Campaigners have been warning that tuna species face a high risk of what they call "commercial extinction" due to weak management of the industry.

At the start of the meeting, WWF warned that Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks were at a dangerously low level.

Campaigners also say that the capacity of the world's tuna fleet is now far greater than required.

The meeting highlighted differences on this issue. Richer countries want to limit fishing capacity while poorer island nations are seeking to expand their fleets.


SEE ALSO
Talks tackle tuna-stock decline
22 Jan 07 |  Asia-Pacific
Farming endangered blue-fin tuna
27 Dec 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Tuna quotas cut as stocks decline
27 Nov 06 |  Science/Nature
'Only 50 years left' for sea fish
02 Nov 06 |  Science/Nature
Japan agrees to halve tuna quota
17 Oct 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Illegal fishing hits tuna stocks
05 Jul 06 |  Science/Nature
Tuna fishing policy 'misguided'
28 Apr 05 |  Science/Nature

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