Congress, Industry urge NOAA to support Bluefin Tuna fishery; Scientists call Pew Trust "factsheet" a distortion

Jun 25, 2013, 19:44 ET from SavingSeafood

WASHINGTON, June 25, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- (Saving Seafood) -- Ten Members of Congress asked negotiators to pursue increased U.S. allocation of bluefin tuna at an international meeting this week. Meanwhile, the Pew Charitable Trusts argued for stricter limits in a "factsheet" that leading scientists called an "irresponsible distortion of the information available." American fishermen felt betrayed by U.S. negotiators in the past, who they argue sided with conservation groups over domestic fisheries and sound science.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) convenes Wednesday in Montreal to discuss the Atlantic bluefin tuna stock assessment. Lawmakers asked delegation chief Russell Smith to "pursue all possible means to secure an increase in the [Total Allowable Catch] for the western Atlantic bluefin tuna stock," declaring current allocations "insufficient to sustain our traditional and valuable U.S. fisheries."

Industry members agreed. "Positions advanced by U.S. negotiators at ICCAT have ignored the interests of our American fishermen," stated Ernie Panacek, President of the Blue Water Fishermen's Association. "As a result, valuable U.S. fisheries, including bluefin tuna and swordfish, are being strangled by our own government."

Pew sent ICCAT a "factsheet" calling positions they support the "best available science," and dismissing as "unsupported" several theories considered valid by ICCAT that remain the subject of continuing scientific debate.

Four senior fisheries scientists from the University of Massachusetts and the University of Maine, including the president of the American Institute of Fishery Research Biologists, issued a rebuttal of Pew's "factsheet," saying it "lacks scientific credibility." They noted that scientific understanding of bluefin tuna remains "highly uncertain," that "many aspects of Atlantic bluefin tuna biology are not known definitively, and that alternative hypotheses should be considered by scientists and fisheries managers."

The discrepancy is rooted in two competing population models: a "high" and "low" scenario. The "high" model predicts that the bluefin population should be much larger than it currently is, suggesting that severe catch reductions are in order. The "low" model estimates the natural population at levels close to those currently seen, suggesting that the current catch levels can be maintained or increased.

Rich Ruais, Executive Director of the American Bluefin Tuna Association, said Pew is trying "to buy its way into...the management responsibilities and conservation programs of the competent authorities such as ICCAT."

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