A trade ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna could put shoppers off buying all forms of tuna unless the industry acts now to educate them, experts have warned.

The fate of Atlantic bluefin tuna will be decided by the UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora next month, when delegates will vote on implementing a global trade ban on the species.

Although the decision would only apply to Atlantic bluefin, consumers were likely to confuse it with other species and reconsider all tuna purchases, Helga Josupeit, fishery industry officer at the UN FAO's fish utilisation and marketing service, told the Seychelles Tuna Conference last week.

"Without any doubt there will be a lot of press coverage for the Atlantic bluefin tuna and the consumer will hear only 'tuna'," she said. In eco-conscious countries such as the UK and Germany, many consumers would refrain from eating any tuna, she predicted.

Consumers would read vague, sensationalist headlines such as "tuna going extinct" or "tuna trade banned" and would not have the correct information to make an informed decision, added Henk Brus, founder of global tuna business Atuna. "We should not let it out of our focus that if there is a trade ban there will be substantial damage to tuna in the market."

Josupeit urged processors to stress to consumers that the tuna going into their cans was not Atlantic bluefin. "It's high time to start this, because March is only around the corner and there might be problems coming," she added.

Last week, the French and UK governments announced their support for a ban ahead of the meeting in March. Atlantic bluefin tuna stocks are in a serious state of collapse, according to the WWF, and an international ban represented the "last hope" for a species that had been overfished and mismanaged for ­decades.

Richard Ford was reporting from the Seychelles.