- The Washington Times - Monday, August 20, 2001

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Bluefin tuna, prized by both sportsmen and sushi lovers, routinely cross the Atlantic and are harvested in European waters, where fishermen are allowed to catch 12 times more than fishermen in American waters, a new study shows.
The finding suggests that international catch quotas based on sections of the Atlantic should be revised.
A single bluefin tuna, weighing more than 400 pounds, has fetched $175,000 at auction in a Japanese seafood market. Prices for the fish routinely soar to $45 a pound.
But their population in western Atlantic waters has declined sharply over the past few years, said the study that appeared Friday in the journal Science.
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) set the catch quota for waters west of the 45th meridian at 5.5 million pounds for 2001. East of the mid-Atlantic meridian, in the European and Mediterranean waters, the quota has been set at 65 million pounds.
The new study, using sophisticated electronic tags on the fish and data recovered by satellite from midocean, has shown the East-West mix of the bluefin population is much higher than expected. In effect, tuna caught in European waters may well be coming from the western Atlantic stock.
Quotas were set with the belief that there was little mixing between the western Atlantic and the eastern Atlantic tuna. The study shows that up to 30 percent of the bluefin routinely cross the median boundary.
In fact, three fish were found to have crossed the Atlantic at least three times, a trip that took about 40 days each way.
"Our results demonstrate that bluefin tuna are capable of ranging widely throughout the North Atlantic," said Barbara A. Block, a Stanford University researcher and the first author of the study. "That means efforts to bring about a recovery of bluefin tuna populations will require increased cooperation among all nations fishing for bluefin tuna."
The study also shows that bluefin are spawning in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean in two distinct populations and there is a need to increase protection of the fish at their breeding sites, she said.
Rolland Schmitten, the U.S. commissioner on ICCAT, said Miss Block's study will be presented at the panel's November meeting in Spain to try to reduce the quota in the eastern Atlantic.
A sharply reduced quota for tuna was set for the western Atlantic three years ago with the idea of rebuilding the stock, he said.
In the study, Miss Block and her colleagues put electronic tags on 377 fish weighing up to 800 pounds. Most were caught off the North Carolina coast by recreational fishermen who cooperated with the scientists. Most of the tags were surgically implanted and the fish were then released. Some also carried tags that were automatically released after a programmed period. The tags floated to the surface and sent data to a satellite. The other tags were retrieved when the fish were caught. After five years, 49 of the tags have been recovered.


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