I’m on my way to Paris right now, where some important days for bluefin tuna are going to be taking place later this week and next. Fisheries managers and representatives from countries around the world are about to come to together at the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or ICCAT- the body that is meant to manage tuna populations in this area of the world. The challenges facing bluefin tuna have never been more plentiful and more serious. The big question that will soon be answered – can those meant to protect bluefin tuna deliver meaningful change after years of mismanagement?
Earlier in the year, I travelled to Doha, Qatar to attend the CITES meeting – the UN body charged with implementing trade restrictions on endangered species. Bluefin tuna was proposed for listing on the CITES Appendix 1 – which could have brought a ban on the international trade in bluefin and could have offered the species a chance of survival. But I sat in the meeting room as country after country, arguing on the one hand that conservation of the species was essential, but that CITES was not the appropriate body to take such measures, failed to support the Appendix I listing. Their argument then was that ICCAT was the appropriate body to protect stocks of bluefin tuna.
The commercial hunt for bluefin tuna continued unabated after that CITES meeting. Despite widespread concerns about the state of the stock, European fishermen once again returned to the fishery in May and June this year and took thousands of tonnes of bluefin from the Mediterranean. Greenpeace was there to meet them as they arrived on the fishing grounds. I was on the water taking action to protect the bluefin and the Mediterranean marine environment as the Greenpeace ships Rainbow Warrior and the Arctic Sunrise attempted to prevent bluefin tuna fishermen’s nets and cages from catching bluefin. In taking this non-violent intervention, one of our activists was seriously injured when a fishermen threw a grappling hook and pulled it clean through the activists leg –a serious injury that required surgery and several days in hospital.
I can’t help but think that the past few months has involved so many adventures related to the bluefin tuna, and each one has ended with fingers pointing to ICCAT as the final stop for those of us wanting to create healthy, living oceans full of fish. If fiisheries managers fail to take action at this year's meeting, it will be buck-passing on a huge scale. That is why this ICCAT meeting is so vital to the future of the bluefin and the Mediterranean – it’s our chance to make things right . That’s why all eyes are on those fisheries managers attending the meeting to be good to their word and use this session to close the fishery and protect vital spawning grounds.
As I head to Paris on the train, my mind turns on a question. Given that fisheries managers know that stocks of bluefin have declined dramatically, that the fishery continues to be riddled with reporting errors and illegal overfishing, will they be strong enough this year to resist the short term, profit-driven interests of the fishing industry and take the decisive action that is needed? Their track record would suggest not. But this year has been a big one for the bluefin and a journey for me in the fight to save the iconic fish species. Given all that I’ve seen take place in the past year, in meeting rooms and at sea, the case for action has never been stronger.
Stay tuned for more updates as the ICCAT meeting kick off in Paris later this week.
Photo: © Paul Hilton / Greenpeace
>> TAKE ACTION: to have fish in the future, we need marine reserves today. Sign the petition.