Bluefin tuna risk being fished to extinction in the North East Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea, a conservation group warned Wednesday, appealing for an immediate ban on catches of the highly prized fish.
The WWF report said catches were running at 40 percent above the legal quota set by an international regulatory body. It said boats from Libya, Turkey and European Union nations led by France were responsible for most of the illegal and unregulated catches.
"The fishery is running out of control," WWF said.
It said the expansion of tuna fishing was fueled by high prices paid by traders in Japan, where bluefin tuna is a prized sushi and sashimi ingredient.
WWF urged the EU to push for tough controls at a meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas scheduled for November in Croatia.
The report was prepared for the WWF by Advanced Tuna Ranching Technologies, a Spanish consulting company that advises on tuna fishing. WWF officials said the company was independent and not linked to the fisheries business in the region.
"They are not a stakeholder in the business," said Sergi Tudela, of WWF's Mediterranean program in Barcelona, Spain.
Increased demand for tuna has led to an industrialization of fisheries with tuna being caught alive, farmed and fattened, then slaughtered and processed at sea. WWF said many are then shipped out unreported.
The report also warned overfishing had spread from the western Mediterranean to eastern waters, which were the "last breeding refuges" for the fish.
It said an immediate ban to allow fish to recover should be followed by a series of tighter controls including more observers to watch for illegal fishing, country-by-country quotas and an increase in the minimum size of fish allowed to be caught.
The tuna warning followed the news Monday that the European Commission is preparing a ban on fishing for anchovies in the Bay of Biscay off the Atlantic coast of France and Spain until the end of the year because stocks are dangerously low.
Also Monday, the EU's executive warned Ireland to tighten controls on salmon fishing, which it said was threatening stocks in some rivers.