The World Wide Fund for Nature warned in a recent report that illegal fishing for bluefin tuna is pervasive in Europe to meet Japanese market demand.

The report, “Tuna Farming in the Mediterranean: the bluefin tuna stock at stake,” criticizes the European Union for legal loopholes that allow tuna farms to benefit from aquaculture subsidies.

It notes that tuna farming, or the fattening of wild tuna in cages, is not aquaculture, in which fish are bred and reared in captivity, and that the expansion of tuna farming in the Mediterranean could soon result in the commercial extinction of the highly endangered bluefin tuna.

“Now tuna farming has opened up a new section on the Japanese market, which has further increased the demand for bluefin tuna and made the situation of wild stocks even more perilous,” the report says.

The booming tuna farming industry requires that the fish be caught live by purse seiners, the report says. The WWF is also critical of the expansion and modernization of these high-tech, large-scale vessels through the European Union’s Financial Instrument for Fishing Guidance, according to the report.

The caught tuna are transferred to cages in which they are fattened for six or seven months to meet Japanese market standards for sushi and sashimi, according to the report.

A total of about 40,000 tons of tuna were caught for farming in 2003 around the Mediterranean, the figure far above the limit catch quota of 32,000 tons in the area set by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, according to WWF survey results and other sources.

“Japanese consumers have no clue to know whether the tuna they are eating is illegally caught,” said Arata Izawa of WWF Japan. He said companies importing and distributing tuna should disclose all related information to the public.

The report points out that the expanding tuna farming industry’s need to feed and fatten the caged tuna has also resulted in increased fishing pressure on some local stocks of small fish such as anchovy.

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