States to decide fate of depleted bigeye tuna

PARIS - Dozens of nations will convene next week to decide the fate of one of the planet's most valuable fish: the bigeye tuna, backbone of a billion dollar business that is severely overfished.

Scientists shocked many in the industry last month when they warned that unless catch levels are sharply reduced, stocks of the fatty, fast-swimming predator could crash within a decade or two.

Less iconic than Atlantic bluefin but more valuable as an industry, bigeye (Thunnus obesus) -- one of several so-called tropical tunas -- is prized for sashimi in Japan and canned for supermarket sales worldwide. 

It is not farmed. 

States are due to decide at the summit, which begins Monday in the Croatian seaside city of Dubrovnik, whether to renew bigeye quotas or revise them downward.

Three years ago, ICCAT introduced a 65,000-tonne catch limit for the seven largest fishers of bigeye, and a moratorium in certain areas of ocean. 

But other countries are not bound by the quotas, and bigeye hauls last year topped 80,000 tonnes -- far too high to begin replenishing stocks.

Some experts have calculated that cutting the total catch to 50,000 tonnes per year would give bigeye a 70 percent probability of recovery by 2028.

"Bottom line, there are simply too many boats in the water chasing too few fish," said Paulus Tak, a senior officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts, and an official observer at the ICCAT meeting.

The European Union -- the second largest bigeye fisher after Japan -- is set to propose an as-yet unnamed quota for all nations that catch more than 500 tonnes per year.