France, Spain and other Mediterranean nations forced the European Union to retreat, on November 18, from an ambitious plan to save the threatened and prized bluefin tuna.

After drawn-out negotiations, the 27-nation EU abandoned a plan to seek cutbacks in fishing quotas based only on scientific advice and said it will now also take the interests of tuna fishermen into account. Representatives from 48 countries around the world are preparing to set fishing quotas for the Atlantic bluefin, whose tender red meat is popular in sushi in Japan.

Some conservationists want quotas slashed at the meeting, while others want fishing suspended entirely, saying that fraud and illegal fishing tactics are rampant in the Mediterranean. The conservation group WWF says the species is “on the brink of extinction.”

Bluefin tuna stocks in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean have dropped 60 per cent from 1997 to 2007. This year, large European fishing boats had to stop fishing for bluefin in June because they had already used up their entire yearly quota.

In March, Japan and other Asian nations blocked efforts at the United Nations to declare the fish an endangered species, which would effectively have banned any international trade in it. Japan consumes about 80 per cent of the world's Atlantic bluefin tuna.

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