Maltese fishermen yesterday lashed out at a decision to keep bluefin tuna quotas almost intact for 2013, despite scientific evidence that the stock is recovering rapidly.

But the Federation of Maltese Aquaculture Producers took a softer stance although it hinted it is expecting a change in the coming years.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) made the decision at its annual conference in Morocco.

National Fisheries Cooperative secretary Raymond Bugeja complained that the decision is not fair on fishermen as they were expecting a substantial increase.

ICCAT, the international body responsible for the setting of quotas, decided to increase its annual quota by just 500 tons over 2012, reaching a total of 13,400 tons – the same as in 2010.

“Following the positive scientific evidence showing tuna is recovering very rapidly, we were expecting the global quota to increase at least to 16,000 tons. This 500-ton increase will mean a mere five tons more for Maltese fishermen next year and this is not fair for our industry,” Mr Bugeja said.

In the past few years, due to overfishing and dwindling tuna stocks in the Mediterranean, a recovery plan was put in place, slashing quotas year in, year out.

Maltese fishermen were badly hit, seeing their annual quota reduced by half over a three-year period, reaching 160 tons this year.

“We wanted our quota to increase at least to 200 tons in 2013. However, the EU opposed this increase and we have to suffer the consequences once again,” Mr Bugeja said.

But the federation, which represents Maltese tuna ranchers, said it is generally satisfied with the outcome of the ICCAT meeting and feels vindicated in its stance over the past few years.

“Though it considers that the contracting partners could have easily pushed for a greater increase consistently with scientific advice and the need to ensure sustainability, it accepts this year’s result in view of the commitment made to increase the quota in future whenever such increase is justified by scientific advice. “

FMAP said it is optimistic that the recovery will continue in the coming years and it is clear that the management of this stock is a success story. Bluefin tuna is very lucrative for Maltese fishermen and tuna ranchers as juvenile fish is flown directly to the Japanese sushi and sashimi markets after fattening, securing high prices.

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