The European Commission on Wednesday banned bluefin tuna fishing in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean for the rest of the year because of over-fishing and dwindling stocks.
The decision was taken after information from member states on their catches showed that the 2007 quota of 16,779.5 tonnes had been exhausted, the EU's executive arm said in a statement.
"The commission must therefore close the whole EU fishery," it said.
The ban concerns Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Portugal and Spain. The other two member states involved, Italy and France, closed their own fisheries in July and August respectively.
"Clearly there are problems both of over-fishing a stock already threatened with collapse and of equity between the member states concerned," said European Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg.
"As is its duty, the commission will do all it can to address these issues urgently," he added.
Environmentalists have warned that tuna face eventual extinction if fishing continues at current rates, boosted by a worldwide fad for Japanese food such as sushi.
Tuna fishing is also an increasingly lucrative industry, particularly for developing economies that export to Japan, which consumes a quarter of the world's tuna.
Scientific research released in France earlier this month showed that 50,000 tonnes of the fish were being pulled out of Mediterranean waters annually, far outstripping the 15,000-16,000 natural replacement rate.
The commission also noted failings in the reporting of catches, saying it intends to "take measures against such failings".
The EU quota of 16,779.5 tonnes was allocated by The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) at a meeting in Tokyo in January and divided between the member states concerned using an agreed method.
Any member states which have not yet caught their quota could be compensated "in subsequent years" while countries that overfished faced penalties under EU and ICCAT rules.
The commission said it would increase surprise visits by its own inspectors to landing ports and farms, in a bid to tackle over-fishing.
A high priority will also be placed on the ICCAT scheme for joint international inspections at sea. Importing countries, in particular Japan, will be asked to refuse imports which are not shown to comply fully with ICCAT rules, the commission said.
The eastern stock of bluefin tuna, a highly migratory species, has been over fished for many years and scientists have repeatedly warned of the danger of collapse if nothing is done to dramatically reduce fishing levels.
French Green MEP Marie Helene Aubert, who sits on the European Parliament's fisheries committee, warned that the cCommission's move could be too little, too late.
"Repeated imposition of excessive quotas for Bluefin, coupled with illegal and unregulated fishing, have led to the dire situation of the Eastern bluefin stock," she said in a statement.
"The EU must keep the ban agreed today in place indefinitely until independent scientific evidence demonstrates that sustainable fishing is possible."
Last Mod: 19 Eylül 2007, 17:43