NOAA Criticized for ICCAT Meeting Bluefin Tuna Policy

U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, has blasted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for a position announced recently by NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco at a meeting of the International Commission on Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) in Paris, France.

During an interview, Dr. Lubchenco asserted that NOAA believes a reduction in the total allowable catch of bluefin tuna is warranted in both the heavily overfished eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean stock and the western Atlantic stock which is harvested primarily by the U.S. and Canada.  While data has shown that the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean stock has been consistently and excessively over-exploited, the most recent scientific report released by ICCAT’s Standing Committee on Research and Statistics in September 2010 shows the western stock is in far better shape, thanks largely to strict management and conservation measures enforced by the U.S. and adhered to by domestic fishermen.

“By suggesting that reductions in total allowable catch of bluefin tuna are warranted in both the eastern and western Atlantic, NOAA is effectively selling out U.S. fishermen who for years have adhered to strict catch limits and conservation measures now proven to have boosted the health of the bluefin population,” said Senator Snowe.  “Our fishermen operate under the world’s strictest management regime, and their sacrifices are largely responsible

for the optimism found in the most recent scientific assessment for western Atlantic bluefin.  The U.S. fishery lacks the rampant over-harvest, under-reporting, and tuna ranching operations that have led to such a dramatic decline in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean.  Thus, to suggest our fishermen should be punished for their actions to rebuild and sustain this vital species is uncalled for and inappropriate.”

Yesterday, prior to the comments Dr. Lubchenco made in France, Senator Snowe sent a letter to the NOAA Administrator, co-signed by nine of her colleagues from the New England delegation, asking that the U.S. delegation to ICCAT focus its attention on pursuing aggressive action ensuring all nations’ compliance with and enforcement of ICCAT policies, reliance on science to drive management decisions, and implementation of policies that incentivize actions to ensure a sustainable future for all ICCAT species, particularly Atlantic bluefin tuna.  The letter also asked the U.S. delegation to pursue a modest increase in the catch limits for western bluefin from the current level of 1,800 metric tons.

“The question the U.S. delegation should be asking is whether we want to incentivize or punish good behavior on the part of ICCAT members,” added Senator Snowe.  “We must allow science to dictate management measures, and in this case, the data is clear: there is room for an increase in the catch limit for western bluefin, yet we must push for further restrictions on catch limits in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean. U.S. fishermen have already sacrificed a portion of their livelihood today for a sustainable future tomorrow. Eastern Atlantic fishermen have not made those concessions, and the time has come for them to accept long overdue catch restrictions.  Imposing those same sanctions on U.S. fishermen even when the science would dictate otherwise will simply serve as a disincentive for other nations to agree to make similar sacrifices.”

Senator Snowe’s letter to Dr. Lubchenco was also signed by Senators Collins (R-ME), Shaheen (D-NH), and Scott Brown (R-MA), and by Representatives Barney Frank (D-MA), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Mike Michaud (D-ME), John Tierney (D-MA), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), and Bill Delahunt (D-MA).  In addition to the letter, Senator Snowe has introduced a Resolution in the Senate calling for strengthened enforcement and compliance measures, protection of U.S. quota of ICCAT species, and strict reliance on science to drive management at ICCAT.

source: Olympia J. Snowe press release