In March the UN sponsored Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) rejected a ban on the international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna, which had been strongly opposed by Japan.
The bluefin’s fate is now in the hands of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), the intergovernmental group responsible for managing its stocks, which will meet in November.
Last year, the ICCAT agreed to cut its bluefin tuna catch in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean by 40 percent, to 13,500 tonnes in 2010.
The WWF has strongly criticized the deal, saying that it ignores a key study that found that even a strictly enforced 8,000 tonne quota would spell just a 50 percent chance of the recovery of the species.
Japan consumes three quarters of all bluefin, mainly raw as sushi and sashimi, but experts agree that decades of overfishing have seen its stocks crash by more than two thirds in the Mediterranean.
Japanese people, who consume most of the Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna catch, should avoid eating the species until its harvest becomes sustainable, the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature said.
“We want to make a call to Japanese traders, retailers and consumers,” said Susana Sainz-Trapaga, who heads WWF’s Mediterranean activities.
“They have the huge opportunity to make a real difference in the current mismanagement situation. If Japanese consumers don’t buy the fish they will force decision makers in the end to find the right solution.”
Japanese consumers should choose skipjack and big eyed tuna as alternatives until governments set up management measures that allow for the species to recover, Sainz Trapaga said.
The conservation group plans to open a Tokyo symposium Tuesday in its first attempt to reach out directly to Japanese consumers to teach them about the endangered ocean giants and the illegal fishing involved.