Monaco has tabled a proposal to place Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna on the list of the world's most endangered species in a move that could ban international trade of the fish.
As one of the most popular sushi staples, bluefin tuna has become increasingly in demand in recent years and its stocks have plummetted over the last decade in both the Atlantic and Mediterranean.
Now, according to a draft proposal put forward by Monaco with CITES, the UN agency against illegal wildlife trade, stocks are so fragile that the species should be classified as being at threat of extinction.
"At this stage we believe that the time for CITES to intervene is long overdue," Monaco said in its submission.
If the proposal were to be adopted by the 175 countries in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), it would end international trade in the fish although local fishermen would still be allowed to sell their catches in domestic markets.
"This measure wouldn't imply a ban on fisheries but it will eliminate the main cause of overfishing: high sushi and sashimi market demand of countries such as Japan or United States," said Maria Jose Cornax, a marine scientist at Oceana, an environmental group specialising on marine life.
Despite warnings that bluefin tuna stocks have been running low, attempts in recent years to simply impose limits on fishing have sparked controversy.
At the moment, bluefin tuna has no form of protection under CITES -- the only global body with the authority to limit or ban global trade in animal and plant species.
Monaco argued that tuna spawning stock in the Mediterranean has declined by more than 74 percent between 1957 to 2007, the bulk of it in the last decade.
Meanwhile, tuna stock in the west Atlantic has plunged by 83 percent between 1970 to 2007.
Even with a near-complete ban on bluefin tuna fishing until 2022, the population would still fall to record lows in the coming years, it added.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in mid-July that France would support such a proposal despite its objections to European Union fishing quotas.
Cornax noted that the signal from France -- which she describes as having huge economic interest in tuna fishery -- leads one to "believe that a reversal of the situation is possible."
Prince Albert I, the Mediterranean's principality ruler, has a strong track record of environmental activism and recently cancelled a major development project on Monte Carlo seafront which he said would disturb marine life.
Other countries supporting the ban include Germany, Britain and the Netherlands.
Late last year, a meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas agreed to cut bluefin tuna fishing by 30 percent over two years in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
However, Monaco argued that ICCAT -- a organisation including major fishing nations -- has "consistently set catch quotas... above levels recommended by its scientists and the failure of its management measures is demonstrated by the continuously decreasing population."
Monaco's proposal is expected to be considered by CITES' 175 member states at a meeting in Qatar in March.