Italy and France near tuna accord

February 13, 2010

By Guy Dinmore

Published: February 13 2010

Italy and France, two of the largest Mediterranean fishing powers, have failed to reach a common agreement on the future of the bluefin tuna, complicating EU efforts to reach a common position ahead of a meeting next month in Doha where Monaco will propose an international trade ban.

Antonio Buonfiglio, Italy’s chief fisheries official, said on Friday that his brief meeting in Paris on Thursday with Bruno Le Maire, French agriculture minister, did not succeed in bridging all differences although they were “90 per cent” in agreement.

One of the main sticking points is Italy’s proposal to stop tuna fishing by purseiners, the main catchers of the prized fish using giant nets to scoop up entire shoals. Italy is proposing that the EU subsidise purseiners to stay in harbour.

Another point of difference is France’s insistence that inclusion of bluefin tuna on appendix one of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) be delayed until the 2011 fishing season instead of being implemented immediately this May.

Cites members meet in Doha in March. Monaco, which last year won the backing of 19 EU member states, will proposal a listing of tuna as an endangered species under appendix one which would lead to a ban on all international trade in tuna, mostly affecting exports to Japan, the biggest market.

European Commissioners are due to meet in Brussels on February 17 to try to reach a common position. Maria Damanaki, Europe’s new fisheries commissioner, is in favour of a Cites listing for tuna which had been resisted by her predecessor, Joe Borg. The European parliament voiced its support on Wednesday.

Italian sources said Le Maire was holding out under pressure from the powerful French fishing lobby.

Environmental groups last month applauded Italy’s u-turn when it said it would support the Cites proposal, while also noting that a delay in a listing would be an embarrassment for President Nicolas Sarkozy who pledged last year to support the ban.

However, speaking to the FT, Mr Buonfiglio said that a Cites decision, which he indicated would need endorsement by scientists of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (Iccat), might come too late to be implemented in time for this May-June fishing season.

His comments appeared at variance with Stefania Prestigiacomo, Italy’s environment minister, who said this week the international trade ban should take immediate effect. Ms Prestigiacomo will represent Italy at the Cites meeting.

Iccat decided in November to reduce the 2010 bluefin tuna catch quota to 13,500 tonnes from 22,000 tonnes last year in recognition of its declining stocks.

Environmentalists are concerned that Italy will use its quota set aside for purseiners to increase catches by longliners – vessels that drag long baited lines which are notorious for catching other endangered species by mistake, such as sharks and turtles.

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