Oceana documents the overfishing of bluefin tuna south of the Balearic Islands from the Marviva Med

Researchers call for the immediate closure of the bluefin tuna season and the urgent establishment of a marine reserve in the Balearic Sea.

Press Release Date: December 17, 2013

Location: Madrid


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Last week, a team of Oceana marine biologists on board the Marviva Med oceanographic vessel obtained images of a fleet of 25 vessels dedicated to the industrial bluefin tuna fishery, approximately 30 miles south of Formentera.

According to Xavier Pastor, coordinator of the Oceana expedition, highly specialised technology is used to catch thousands of tons of breeding specimens of bluefin tuna. This technology is absolutely disproportionate to the current size of the bluefin tuna stock and will lead to the collapse of this fishery if the season is not immediately closed and that area of the Balearic Sea declared a marine reserve in which the industrial fishing of bluefin tuna is permanently prohibited. WWF has already suggested the boundaries for this reserve based on scientific studies carried out by specialists in this species. Both the local government of the Balearic Islands and the Spanish Senate have requested that the sanctuary be established. However, the Spanish government has not taken any steps to comply with these requests, nor has it called on the European Commission.

Since its departure from the port of Palma two weeks ago, the vessel, chartered by Oceana, monitors the activities of the vessels dedicated to the bluefin tuna fishery. Early last week, the Marviva Med began monitoring the activities of a fleet of five French seiners. After various days of unsuccessful attempts to locate the tuna, the vessels finally joined a group of ten Spanish and French industrial seiners south of the island of Formentera and carried out a massive fishing operation. The seiners had various tuna-fattening cages with them to transfer the fish after being caught, as well as close to 15 auxiliary vessels, including towboats and other types of fishing vessels temporarily converted to the bluefin tuna fishery. Furthermore, two dozen small boats and rubber dinghies equipped with powerful engines were used to help manage the gigantic nets. The scene was completed by no less than 20 divers who worked to tie the tops of the nets together or connect the floating cages after the fish was caught, forcing the tuna to pass from one cage to another. 

Oceana affirms it observed a yellow Cessna 337 “push-pill” airplane, equipped with twin booms, flying over the French vessels that were anchored off Formentera on June 2, at 13:15. Fifteen minutes later, the purse seiners lifted their anchors and quickly sailed to the fishing grounds. Using airplanes for spotting is illegal and infringes the regulations established by ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.

“This uncontrollable pursuit of breeding bluefin tuna was carried out before our very eyes within an area just over 1 mile in diameter. The vessels were passing within meters of each other trying to catch the last bluefin tuna before the fishery collapses forever,” declared Xavier Pastor.

Patrol boats from the Guardia Civil and the Spanish Navy, as well as airplanes and helicopters from the General Secretariat of Fishing from the Spanish Ministry of the Environment, closely monitored the fleet.

These measures represent an advancement regarding the scandalous illegal fishing activities of past years. But the patrol boats can do nothing except certify the legality of the fishing operations, while the stocks of bluefin tuna are being mercilessly depleted. Celebrating World Ocean Day with all of its official paraphernalia means absolutely nothing if authorities continue to promote the depletion of this species’ stocks,” added Pastor.