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A more responsible bluefin tuna fishery

This May 26, 2022 begins the bluefin tuna season. Until July 1, the 23 tuna seiners from Sète and the neighboring ports of the Gulf of Lion will set off on a campaign to track down the migratory animal which gathers in the Mediterranean every spring to reproduce. These powerful boats are under surveillance both by GPS and by observers on board. It is that we do not laugh with the catch quotas for a species with high market value. The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) authorizes for this 2022 season the capture of 36,000 tonnes of Thunnus thynnus. The French share is 6,000 tonnes, of which 3,500 tonnes are reserved for seiners (large fishing nets that surround the banks) for which this is the only activity and 660 tonnes for small longliners in the coastal fishing of the Gulf of Lion. It may not seem like much. It’s actually a lot. “In 2014, the overall quota was 13,500 tonnes”recalls Bertrand Wendling, general manager of the fishing organization (OP) Sathoan (Sardine-tuna-anchovies) based in Sète (Hérault).

Some of these boats accommodate scientists specializing in the species. “We are the ones asking for them“, specifies Bertrand Wendling. Ten years ago, the approach was not natural. The “war of the tuna” opposed then the fishermen to the environmental NGOs specialized in the protection of maritime resources with the scientists stuck in the middle who tried to understand the methods by which they estimated the amount of fish in the sea and tried to objectively justify their cries of alarm.For 20 years, fishermen disputed these calculations, claiming that there was always so much bluefin tuna to come reproduce in the Mediterranean despite reports of a declining resource and especially ever smaller fish. Everything is forgotten. What happened? “When the news is good, everything is fine“, smiles Bertrand Wendling. Painfully imposed in 2014, the recovery plan has worked beyond expectations. Less hunted down in its fresh places, the species has recovered. And the catch quotas have increased again. “It has been demonstrated that the recommended management method has indeed the expected results”, notes Tristan Rouyer, researcher at Ifremer Sète.

A common interest in better understanding how tuna live

Common ground has emerged.

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