Science: Fisheries nations set to discuss bluefin tuna

After defeating a proposal in 2010 to ban the export of an endangered fish that is a key ingredient of sushi, Japan and Asian nations argued it should be left to quota-setting international fisheries bodies to bring the species back from the brink.

Thanks in part to a sharp reduction in the amount of fish legally caught, the bluefin population in the Atlantic is on the rebound though "the magnitude and speed of the increase vary considerably," according to a stock assessment by scientists released ahead of the annual International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.

Environmentalists are calling on the 48 nations in ICCAT to endorse scientific recommendations to keep the current quotas of 14,200 tons a year intact for the next three years. They will also be pushing for increased protection for other threatened species, including shortfin mako and porbeagle sharks as well as blue marlin and white marlin.

Lax quotas at ICCAT and rampant overfishing resulted in the stocks of bluefin falling by 60 percent from 1997 to 2007. Amid fears the fish was on the brink of extinction, environmentalists argued at the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, in 2010 that only a trading ban would protect the fish.

Fishing nations from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean joined the call to shift the debate to ICCAT, contending that any ban would damage their fishing communities and that fears of the stock's collapse were overstated. Japan is the world's largest exporter of bluefin.

In November 2010, ICCAT cut the annual global quota by 40 percent to 14,900 tons and since then reduced it to 14,200 tons a year later. There has also been increased enforcement which has helped reduce illegal fishing and the growth of farm-bred tuna in Japan which has helped meet the demand.

The United States, another key player at the negotiations, has said it supports "the rebuilding and term sustainable management of the western and eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks by adopting science-based and precautionary conservation and management measures that ensure continued stock growth."