Celia Ojeda Martinez onboard the Arctic Sunrise during the 2010 Defending the Mediterranean expedition
When I started working for Greenpeace Spain a few years ago, I knew that the bluefin tuna was an important and iconic fish species. However, I knew hardly anything about ICCAT, the management body charged with managing the Atlantic bluefin. I certainly didn't know how ICCAT worked nor how the ICCAT member countries establish the bluefin fishing quotas. Something I knew a lot about, though, was the overfishing crisis facing our oceans. The tens of millions of people that rely on our oceans in order to survive need healthy, living oceans and a change in the way we manage our oceans. The bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean is no exception.
In crafting the Greenpeace campaign to protect tuna, I thought to myself: "how can we protect something that some people may find difficult to love?"No one has a bluefin tuna as a pet, and most people think about sushi or sashimi when they think of bluefin tuna,
This reality had to be changed, so I met with the people for whom bluefin is one of the most important things in life, the fishermen. I went to the Balearic Islands, where fishermen do not fish for bluefin, since the waters off of their coasts are one of the most important spawning areas for the majestic fish. The Balearic fishermen’s boats are quite small- usually less than 12 meters long- and are sent out daily to fish in small quantities. These communities support the creation of marine reserves in their Balearics, to help bring fish populations back to healthy levels. They believe the waters around the Balearics are important, and during bluefin fishing season, their nets are often torn by the purse seiners that fish there. They are fed up with this situation- the purse seiners do not seek their local advice on navigation nor do they even look for the nets’ owners after destroying it. The communities here know all about the impacts of large-scale fishing and are in support of measures to keep fishing sustainable and sensible.
Greenpeace went to the Balearic Islands in 2009 with the Rainbow Warrior to explain our demands to the community there: the creation of the Balearic Sanctuary, a Marine Reserve to protect the bluefin tuna's spawning grounds, for which we got their support. The local government there demanded that the Spanish government also make the same declaration. Two years have passed and we are still waiting for an answer, and believe me when I say that we keep reminding them that we continue to wait for their response!
Purse seiners look like the kings of the sea. I came into close contact with them while I was onboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise this past summer, during the Mediterranean bluefin fishing season. Greenpeace was there attempting to stop the capture of the bluefin in the hopes of preventing the species' collapse. We were met by fishermen with harpoons and met with violence, but we were able to deliver our message to many people on land: that there is not much time left to protect bluefin.
Now I’m here in the ICCAT compliance committee meeting, listening to how countries discuss if they have reported their catches properly, if they have controlled their vessels and reporting on what was caught this past season. Europe thinks that they have done their share of compliance with ICCAT regulations, but not really, and Spain certainly hasn’t.
If Spain has the most important bluefin spawning ground area, why is the SPanish government not protecting it? After all, the bluefin spawning grounds meet the criteria for protection under many European regulations and laws, such as the Barcelona Convention and the Mediterranean Regulation. The spawning grounds area in the Balearics was also selected as a biodiversity hot spot by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Could this political inaction have something to do with the powerful lobbying by the purse seine industry that is fishing there? I sure think so…
Celia Ojeda Martinez is an oceans campaigner based in Greenpeace Spain’s Madrid office.
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