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Friday
Aug182017

DNA tests confirm Southern Bluefin Tuna on menu in mainland China

© naturepl.com/David Fleetham/WWF

Beijing, China, 18th August 2017—The Southern Bluefin Tuna market in China, a new study published today, has found Southern Bluefin Tuna is served in restaurants in mainland China, particularly Shanghai. This is a significant finding not only because of the threatened status of the tuna, but as it also provides insights into China’s role as a non-member of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT), the organization that sets annual fishing quotas for the tuna.

The majority of the fashionable Japanese-style sashimi restaurants sampled in Shanghai and Beijing were unable to provide details about which species of tuna they offered, but DNA testing by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of 199 samples collected by TRAFFIC found 26 (13%) to contain Southern Bluefin Tuna (SBT): 96% of the positive samples were collected in Shanghai.

Download the full report The Southern Bluefin Tuna market in China

SBT is popularly consumed as sashimi in Japan, but over-fishing has led to significant stock declines where the species lives in the cool and temperate waters of the southern hemisphere. The tuna species, Thunnus maccoyii, has been classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as Critically Endangered.

“It is essential to understand who is catching and landing Southern Bluefin Tuna, who the consumers are and how much is being traded in order to conserve and manage surviving tuna stocks,” said Joyce Wu, Senior Programme Officer with TRAFFIC in East Asia, and an author of the new study.

Management of SBT stocks, including setting annual quotas, is undertaken by the CCSBT, a regional fisheries management organization. Total allowable catches of SBT each year are set by the CCSBT for Members and Cooperating Non-Members to the Commission, but China has neither status and the discovery of SBT within the Chinese market clearly identifies the country as a SBT Market State.

Lo Sze Ping, CEO of WWF China said: “The uncertainty around the quantities and whether the origin of the SBT available within the China market is from legal sources would lead us to encourage China and CCSBT, which is trying to manage this single stock of tuna, to consult with each other.’’

Customs data from mainland China show reported (re-)exports of around 50.6 t of frozen SBT between 2011 and 2013, more than the total imported frozen SBT (34.3 t) in the same period. Meanwhile, mainland China imported and retained more than 100 metric tonnes of SBT in 2014 and 2015, more than double in volume compared to 2013. This may indicate a rising demand for high-value sashimi tuna, and although it is possible the SBT in the Chinese market may all be derived from legitimate annual catch quota imports. When the report’s findings were discussed by CCSBT members in 2016, they concluded there were “indications that a high proportion of SBT in China was from illicit sources.”

These suspicions were further supported after a Chinese vessel found fishing in waters between Fiji and New Zealand in 2016 was found to be unlicensed and DNA testing proved it had misreported its catch of 100 tonnes of SBT as the less valuable Bigeye Tuna. The Chinese authorities reacted swiftly and deregistered the company, fined it approximately USD600,000 and banned it from working in international waters.

The report warns that incomplete SBT trade data may be concealing other infractions. Japan, for example, does not record information on shipments worth less than JPY200,000 (USD1,800) in value. The report recommends that Japan document all trade in SBT including confirmation of sashimi tuna trade volumes with mainland China and Hong Kong.

Marked and labelled Southern Bluefin Tunas Thunnus maccoyii. Tokyo fishmarket Japan © Michael Sutton /WWF

“Increasing the consistency in data recording by Japan and other fishing entities will help clarify the dynamics of the Southern Bluefin Tuna trade and identify whether any illicit trade is taking place that is not being reported or is beyond quotas,” said Wu.

Improved data collection would also improve the traceability of SBT along the trade chain by, for example, following World Customs Organization (WCO) recommendations on the use of Harmonized System (HS) Customs codes.

“The lack of basic and accurate information about the quantity and origin of Southern Bluefin Tuna in trade undermines CCSBT’s management efforts and highlights the need for the introduction of clear traceability systems to track precisely what was traded, where it went and where it ended up,” said Wu. ‘’Whether it be Flag, Port or Market States, all need to take responsibility for the impact on wild populations of tuna, particularly for species such as SBT which has been reduced to such a low level and are under management to rebuild the stock to a biologically safe level.”

Trade chain traceability – including tuna offered for sale in restaurants as well as e-commerce platforms – is absolutely vital given the potential size of the Chinese market and the impact it could have on the remaining Southern Bluefin Tuna stocks.

“WWF will continue to assist Chinese corporate partners to reduce environmental risks involved in their e-commerce platforms and logistic systems, helping them to categorize their traded products on the platforms according to environmental impacts, and ensuring stable growth in profit,” said Lo Sze Ping.

The Southern Bluefin Tuna market in China report was made possible by funding from the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna.

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