The expansion of tuna farming in the Mediterranean could lead to the commercial extinction of the already overexploited and highly endangered bluefin tuna in just a few years, according to a report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The WWF report criticises the EU for encouraging the expansion of tuna farming in the Mediterranean through its aquaculture subsidies. The report argues that tuna farming, which consists of fattening bluefin tuna caught alive in the wild, should not count as aquaculture, where fish are bred and reared in captivity.

The global conservation organisation also criticises the expansion and modernisation of purse seiners, the fishing boats used to catch bluefin tuna alive, through the EU's Financial Instrument for Fishing Guidance (FIFG).

According to WWF, almost all bluefin tuna are now caught by high-tech, large-scale purse seiners, and transferred to cages to feed the booming tuna farming industry.       
 
The WWF said the report conservatively estimates that in total up to €19m-20m (US$23.4m-24.6m) of public funds have been allocated to the different stages of the tuna farming industry in EU Mediterranean waters since 1997.
 
"These subsidies should be immediately eliminated as they are directly resulting in overfishing of the bluefin tuna and could lead to the collapse of the stock in the region within the next few years," said Dr Simon Cripps, director of WWF's global Marine Programme.

"Giving money to the unsustainable tuna farming is not in line with the agreements that were made under the reform of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy," he added.
 
The group said tuna farming is driven mainly by the Japanese market demand for "sushi" and "sashimi". Once caught, the tuna are transferred alive to pens, where they are fattened to improve the oil content of the flesh in order to meet Japanese market standards.