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Sète: the armada of tuna seiners is about to weigh anchor

The 2022 Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishing campaign will take place from May 26 to July 1.

The time of departure will soon strike for the Mediterranean purse seiners. And sète in particular. The annual bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) fishing campaign will take place from May 26 to July 1. It is therefore next week, around May 20 to 23, that the imposing ships that line certain quays (Aspirant-Herber, de la Marine, de la République, etc.) will weigh anchor to go to the fishing areas.

A highly regulated fishery

For fifteen years, bluefin tuna fishing has been highly regulated, and takes place within a strict framework: the stock recovery plan, decided by ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Tunas) in 2006 and transformed into a management plan in 2018. Thus, as every year, the Ministry of the Sea issued an order establishing the terms and conditions for the distribution of the bluefin tuna quota granted to France for the Atlantic zone and the Mediterranean zone, in particular between the producer organizations, including the Sa-Tho-An (Sardine-Thon-Anchovies) based in Sète. Each vessel must carry a scientist from the ROP (Regional Observator Program) under the aegis of the International Commission for the Conservation of Tunas (ICCAT).

Quotas

The quota allocated to France for these two areas is 6,012 tonnes (it’s very precise!) for the year 2022, the vast majority (5,351 tonnes) being distributed between vessels registered in the Mediterranean, 60 tonnes being allocated in recreational fishing. The annual TAC (Total Allowable Catch) is approximately 36,000 tonnes worldwide, including 19,460 for European countries, primarily France, Italy and Spain.

The Sétois on the front line

Of the 22 Mediterranean tuna purse seiners that will go on the campaign, the vast majority (17) are from Sète. The Avallone armament provides the largest flotilla with four ships (the Jean-Marie-Christian III, IV, VI and VII). Two tuna boats will leave from Agde, two others from Port-Vendres. The quotas assigned to each vessel vary, depending on their capacity, between 136 and 355 tonnes.

Fishing areas

They are mainly located around the island of Malta and the Balearic Islands. But you should know that last year, several Sète ships that were near Malta had to “repatriate” to the Balearic Islands because of the presence of the imposing units of the Turkish fleet…

How it works ?

Once the kick-off has been given, from May 26 therefore, the vessels will deploy their huge seines where the bluefin tuna gather. Those captured are then transferred to huge floating “cages” 50 meters in diameter, brought in by tugboats, most of them belonging to Spaniards or Maltese. Once in the cage, the tuna will stay there for six months while being fed fish. More than 80% of them weigh more than 100 kg, 30 kg being the minimum weight allowed. This diet will multiply their weight by 30 to 40%. Six months later, the Japanese (the number one clientele) will enter the scene by arriving on site on board freezer boats. Once slaughtered, the bluefin tuna (at least 95% of them) will reach the Japanese archipelago and in particular the huge fish market in Tokyo.

Where are the stocks?

They have returned to good levels, according to Bertrand Wendling, boss of the professional organization Sa-Tho-An: the recovery program launched fifteen years ago, and therefore imposing these quotas, has borne fruit. A scientific assessment carried out between 2020 and 2021 confirmed this in 2020-2021. Another study will be carried out in November, with a new evaluation model that will be tested, to replace the current plan with a new management program.

At what prices?

How much does the bluefin tuna campaign bring to Sète ships? “About €10 per kilo on average per vessel, says Bertrand Wendling. fuel depending on the size of its tank. It should also be remembered that the last two years, due to the health crisis, and therefore the drop in demand, have caused prices to drop to 6/7 € per kilo in 2020 to 7/8 € in 2021. 2022 marks the return to a “normal” pre-Covid 19 year.

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